Tuesday, October 18, 2011

I am an island

In the US, unless you are at an airport or Disneyland, you typically hear English spoken.  Of course there is a huge Latin population and other groups from far-away lands who live here, but by and large they tend to speak English too at some point.  In fact, English is the defacto language for most international travel and business.

The end result of this has had one unfortunate by-product.  We as Americans tend to speak only one language...English.  To be bi-lingual is usually due to having an ethnic background where the parents speak another language or you were raised as a youth in another country, etc.  But largely, linguistically speaking, we are a rock, we are an island.

In Europe (and in Israel too) it is very common to proficiently speak several languages or at least be decent conversationally.  I guess some of that is the close borders that make it easy to have move between countries.  You can travel thousands of miles and never leave the States.  Why else?  Not sure.  Maybe it is more of a world awareness.  Maybe the educational system...dunno.

In any case, it is a bit of a smackdown every time I travel and realize that the waiter at my table speaks French, German, and English.  In Israel it was Hebrew, Arabic and English.  Me?  Stoopid American.  I can just fall back on the old stand-by...talk sloooowly and loudly in bad English like some Steve Martin comedy and gesture accordingly.  That always helps annoy the locals.

Most of what I know came from watching movies and TV.  The funny thing is, I have a pretty good ear for languages.  I just never put in the effort to learn one.  Island living does that to ya'.  But, I think I need to change that.  I don't buy into the "I am a citizen of the world" stuff.  I am a citizen of the US.  But I think I need to get off the island more.

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