Language Barrier

Colonia del Sacramento Travel Blog

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     One thing that is often taken for granted in your home country is the natural language.  Being fluent in the native tongue of your homeland is something that many people do not consider a blessing.  I suppose that is something that for a large part of the population is not an issue.  That is, having to communicate on a regualr basis with non-english speaking people.  As of this weekend, I am officially off that list.  No more will I ever think that my language is superior to another because you are paralyzed when that is not the case.  When you are in situation where you can not completely understand what is being said to you it almost like being paralyzed.  Being helpless and unable to do anything about a situation is the same thing.

"Condraflecho y Ind. Suarez Conductor Turisto." I have no idea what that means other than that it is written under the observation section of my traffic warning from Colonia, Uruguay. A traffic violation is usually enough to ruin your day but a traffic violation in another country that uses another language is another problem in itself.  If my spanish had been a little better this entire situation would have been avoided.  Right before we crossed the intersection, going the wrong way on a one way street, a man in a car passing by told us something.  I do not know for sure what he said, but probably wanted to tell the unaware tourists that they were going the wrong way.  It is not that we all stand out as tourists but tourists are the only ones who rent four wheelers to tour the city on a Sunday afternoon. 

After crossing the intersection I heard a whistle and turned to see two traffic cops about 30 yards to my right running towards me.  Not realizing that I had done anything wrong I kept going for a short while.  Then, when I turned around to see where Ivan was, he was talking to the traffic cops.  It was then I realized that we had unintentionally made a mistake.  Any good friend would turn around to see what was the problem and that was what I did.  Unfortunately, it did not necessarily change the outcome of the situation.  This is the point where being able to carry my weight in conversation using spanish would have been useful.  The two cops, once figuring out that we were american tourists, decided to have some fun with us.  They told us that we must have deaf in english to not have heard the repeated whistles, obviously a universal indicator to stop operating any motor vehicle.  It did not help the situation when our friends were seen taking pictures of the encounter across the street.  Inspector Morales, was a little more understanding when I was able to speak to her a little in spanish and explain that we had not been told the traffic laws about the one way streets in borken spanish.  That, we were sorry for the misunderstanding and could see that they were only doing their job. I would say that the attempt to communicate with them in spanish may have been the difference between a ticket and the received warning.  In short, making an attempt to talk to someone in their own language is often more appreciated than known. 

wangwei says:
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Posted on: Jul 09, 2010
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