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Saturday, May 26, 2018

Linguistic Flavors: Take off your boots!

Apparently a lot of people forget the no liquids rule here.

My husband and I were in the airport, going through security. I've traveled a lot.  I like to think that I'm kind of a travel/airport pro. 

// Cue: The sense that you often have when you are learning a foreign language that you are the farthest thing from a pro in any given thing when language is required to complete or process the thing.

Airport security employee:"Pani, idete ako do roboty"

This is the phrase that my brain came up with as possibly the most logical result of the strange words I heard. Kind of like the keyboard on your mobile phone that guesses what word you were most likely trying to type.

In this moment of my perceived airport security knowledge, my brain did a quick scan of possibilities.

Brain: Hmm, those words are not familiar.  Let's figure out what he said.

You've put everything on the belt to go through the scanner, so next step is to walk through the human scanner.

No one else is taking off their shoes, so he must be telling you to go through the scanner.

Me: But I don't understand the words.

Brain: Boty, roboty, that sounds close.

Perhaps there's a phrase in Slovak like "go on through just like if you were going to work". 

Me: Sure. Ok.

I kind of smile at the airport employee and start walking towards the human scanner. Hoping that I can fake understanding without really understanding.

Nope. Not what he said. He says the phrase again.



Maybe that's my boots.

I point at them.

Brain: Aha! That's what he said! "Pani, dáte dole boty." Please take off your boots.

He nods and asks if I have anything else on my feet that he might be referring to.

// Cue: The sense you often have as a foreign language learner/speaker that the person you are interacting with quite possibly thinks you are an idiot. 

Me (inside): Oh. No. Nope. I don't. I just don't speak your language. Therefore, even the simplest words (to you) are sometimes incomprehensible (to me).

There's a twinge of embarrassment. A glimpse of shame.


Why do I feel shame?

I've learned a new language and submitted myself to constant potential humiliation and misunderstanding. That's nothing to be ashamed of. In fact, it's quite brave.  I would tell anyone else in a similar situation that. And I am learning to tell myself: "Johanna, you're pretty brave." "Johanna, that's pretty funny what your brain came up with. It made no sense, but in some ways it was pretty clever." "Johanna, now you know a new phrase. A new word is better stored in your brain. One small step for the continuing saga of Johanna mastering the language of Slovakia." 

Reframing our experiences can be hard. Especially when we feel tired, hurt, vulnerable, and like an outsider. But when I imagine the hundreds of thousands of people who attempt to live and communicate in a language that is not their own, I know it is possible.With grace and kindness and laughter - for myself and others - this language adaptation can be positive, pleasant and successful.

*successful as defined not by being perfect and understanding 100%, but successful as defined by one continuing to try to understand and live in the difficulty of uncertainty and misunderstanding. 

So, take your boots off, sit back and take some time to reframe your current circumstance that feels overwhelming or impossible.  

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

Toilet Tuesdays: Warning

My husband and I were recently in the US.  My first time back since moving to Slovakia a little over 1.5 years ago.  Other than eating delicious Mexican food several times, my favorite part was being able to eavesdrop..urm..I mean, understand all the words swirling around me without having to try at all.  Despite often feeling inept in my new language, I pretty much rock at speaking and understanding English! ;)

I was also reminded of the tendency in the US to assume that the average human being needs to be held by the hand and warned against potential dangers one might encounter in any given situation.  (For a contrasting experience, check out my post about visiting castle ruins in Slovakia here.)

It may come as no surprise to you that this week's toilet Tuesdays comes from a toilet I visited in a coffeeshop in Dallas.  On the coffee review side, they had delicious coffee, great atmosphere, and these really trendy automized drippers that simulate pouring your very own V60.  Sigh.  The art of third wave coffee has already been commercialized.   I am now awaiting fourth wave coffee.

Now on to the bathroom.

My first exciting discovery in the bathroom was this handy hanging device.  I have often entered a bathroom only to find that the hook on the door is broken, or barely hanging on, leaving me with nowhere to place my purse or hang my coat.

Not so this sturdy device.

Anchored by four screws, with the hook squarely in the middle, this hanger exuded steely confidence that whatever was hung upon it would be safe for the duration of it's stay.

I tend to enjoy grey and yellow together and these cute little hexagonal tiles were a perfect mix of whimsy and modern.  Of course, the houndstooth motif was featured as well.

Now we arrive at something that most likely only attracted my attention because I haven't encountered it in almost 2 years.



Just to clarify, the coffee did not contain alcohol, the shop shared space with a wine bar.  However, the warning to pregnant women stood out to me.  Possibly because often you need to go to the bathroom after you've been drinking.  In which case the warning might be a little late.

I'm thankful for measures that try to decrease and combat the horrible practice of human trafficking and this post is not intended to belittle the seriousness of that crime.  I'm just observing that these types of signs are a rare (if at all) occurrence in Slovakia.

And yes, please, wash your hands employees!  (And non-employees for that matter.)  Hand washing has done wonders for combatting the spread of numerous diseases over the past century and I am certainly not advocating a reduction in this practice!

But do you really think that an employee, taking a bathroom break, finishes at the john and reaches for the door, stopping at the sight of this sign and says "Oh yeah! I have to wash my hands before returning to work!  Golly I'm glad that sign reminded me."  Does this sign have a measurable impact on employees washing their hands?  Did the legislation that requires that these signs be posted look at research comparing amount of bacteria found on employee hands in establishments where signs were posted versus amount of bacteria found on employee hands in establishments where signs were not posted?!

Does seeing that sign serve as some kind of psychological balm to my possible concerns as a customer that the employee who prepared and served my coffee might not have washed his/her hands post-toilet?

Again, this is something that largely goes unnoticed (sorry people who think that these signs single-handedly keep germs and bacteria out of our food) for most Americans, but as an American re-entering the country after a decent time abroad (in a civilized, western country), the signs stood out to me.  They highlighted to me a preoccupation that Americans seem to have with safety and the subconscious belief that laws can provide all the safety we need without taking responsibility to act and teach each other to be safe.