Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Wednesday Factoid: Out of Place

Today's Wednesday Factoid is: What situation or place would you feel most out of place in?

Any situation where I can't speak the language.

People speaking a language I don't understand is completely fine with me--it doesn't bother me if I'm with people who are bilingual (or multilingual) and I don't know what they're talking about in my presence to other people who understand. But if they don't understand English and I can't speak their language, I feel out of place because even if I want to, I don't have a verbal way of telling people what I need or who I am.

I don't have much experience with this because I haven't traveled much, but the best example I can offer is when I went to Japan. Because there, the alphabet isn't the same as the one I know and I can't even look up what a sign says since I don't know how to use their characters. If you can't read and can't ask really basic questions (or understand the answers), you can get into real trouble. And even aside from the practical considerations like not being able to ask what's in your food or not being able to understand when someone tells you your total at the cash register, you can feel pretty isolated in an unfamiliar place if you also can't use language to help you understand. 

I went to Japan with my mother, who speaks even less Japanese than I do (I know, like, a teeny bit?), but we were visiting my sister who was competent in the language. Having her there was good because she could interpret and help, but she wasn't always there and it wasn't always important to translate so in some situations she was part of a conversation when we could not be. That's just how it is if you haven't learned the language in a place you're traveling to. My mom tried to go to a convenience store alone while my sister and I were doing something else, and she got lost and found she couldn't ask for help. She didn't even know the address of my sister's apartment and couldn't read street signs, so even if she'd found someone who could speak with her, she wouldn't have been able to tell them where she needed to go. She literally just wandered the streets until we accidentally found her. (We did not have cell phones.)

If you go somewhere where everyone else can communicate but you can't make yourself understood at all, that's where I think I feel most out of place. In most other situations, I can find a way to feel comfortable with people who are different from me, though I also feel REALLY out of place around outspoken bigots obviously. (I have a friend whose family is of that description and I was subjected to some very ignorant, horrible commentary at the friend's family dinner once. It's scary, and in a way worse than not knowing what people are saying at all, but that's another story; knowing what you're dealing with and hating it versus having no tools to find out is hard to compare.)

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