New York, NY
Le dang! I wish I had paid closer attention during French class in high school. I would have known just enough to be dangerous, and given the flight attendants something to chuckle about. (As I write, I just said “gracias” for the menu. Le doh!)
I actually do know just enough French to be dangerous (c’est trop dangeroux!) When I was last in Europe, I was able to roughly interpret the instructions on the hotel room door for escaping a fire. They went like this: “In case of fire in your room, guard Sigmund Freud, and cry out ‘Ah! Fool!’ In case the fire alarm sounds, leave your room after a brief delay. Do not put your mattress on the flames immediately, leave your room saying ‘good-night’ as you reform the door.”
Good thing there wasn’t a fire.
The Swiss attendees at the conference I will be attending speak a minimum of three languages, many of them even more. In fact, there are four official languages in Switzerland, and many Swiss also choose to learn English.
Unfortunately, we in America don’t place the same value on multiple language acquisition. We have a great deal of linguistic diversity in the U.S., like the Swiss do, but we tend to take a more arrogant approach with our dominant language. I wonder how long our nation will be able to get away with that in a truly global society?
I’ll be able to survive this week thanks to the generosity of others who will be speaking about complex issues not in their primary language. (Then it’s on to Japan, where I know even less!) But it’s never too late to learn. I’m looking forward to assimilating a bit more of their language and culture into my own. Maybe I’ll even pick up a cool accent while I’m there.