Spin the Globe with Justin Butner

A world citizen may provide value to society by using knowledge acquired across cultural contexts.

Saving the Day

Waking up on a cold brick floor in a train station will start the day off on the wrong foot. Being shuffled from common room to common room in the hostel before you can check in doesn’t help that situation. And finally waking up at 2pm in a cold hostel room really helps to complete the feeling of detachment and disorientation. And so today, after all of those experiences, I found myself showered, fed and ready for a cigarette at 4.

The wonderful thing about staying in a hostel for a long enough period is that you meet people. Friends, compatriots, acquaintances – whatever you want to call them, you get a chance to interact with them long enough to connect. And so standing out front with Georgio sharing in the beautiful weather, my day started to come together. Benjamin, a recent arrival from France walked up, joined us, and we started talking about the language barrier. It is fairly high with the three of us. Both of them want to learn English, and I as the native English speaker with a clear accent and slow cadence am the sounding board.

After a brief time on the stoop, the suggestion for beers came up. I didn’t particularly feel like going out, but listening to my intermittent voice of, “Never resist and invitation,” I agreed. Once we had settled at a bar the conversation started in earnest. The same questions started off as always. Where are you from? How long are you here? What is your plan? What did you do back home? But the questions took a more interesting turn than is assured. What do you like to do? What is it like back home?

And so over beers and cigarettes we sat around and learned. Why does France have so many nuclear facilities? What is the perception of each of our countries in the other? Is there racism in DC? And we talked about topics relevant to ourselves. Nature is more impressive than cities. Hiking and being in the wilderness is more fun than hanging out at the beach. The position France occupies in the EU is causing them to have a more corporate outlook on food distribution and selection of fresh and natural produce is dropping off as big companies take over markets from seed to store. Seeing the Outback and getting away from civilization is a sensation that cannot be described so much as it is a feeling of grandiose placement in the universe that must be experienced to be believed. Cooking is art. Everyone needs a hobby to keep themselves sane and calm, and certain hobbies (writing) lend themselves better to travel than others (sculpting). French tobacco is pretty damn good.

You would think that being the native speaker of a language would make it that much easier on my part to be monopolizing conversation and communicating with ease. But it was no easier for me than it was for the others. While they paused to find words, to describe what they were trying to get at, I wrapped my brain around trying to understand. And while they worked to understand what I was saying and improve their English, I consciously worked to communicate my thoughts in the absence of idiomatic phrases and overly convoluted sentences. This is no small feat for me as I tend to ramble and say things in a not-strictly-proper English manner.

And at the end of it we all exchanged contact information and invitations. If I ever end up near Pisa, I will have a place to stay, drink, and eat delicious home cooked meals. As I travel around Australia, I may end up with someone to share a ride with and to hike with. And if they end up back in the States, I will have guests to show around and introduce to the city.

Such is the nature of meeting those who choose to travel.

2 comments on “Saving the Day

  1. Amy
    November 29, 2011

    Your English changes the longer you spend around non-native speakers, for that very reason. You adopt to be understood because a lot of the trappings of our language aren’t common – and you’re never really as aware of the slang and the idioms that you use on a day to day basis until you cut them out.

  2. Bob Thompson
    November 30, 2011

    Justin, I’m really enjoying these posts. I hope you keep it up. Good luck!

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This entry was posted on November 29, 2011 by in Australia, NSW (Sydney).

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