My husband’s strategy for communicating in a place where he doesn’t speak the local language is to use similar words from a language he does know delivered with a local accent.
The craziest part of this approach is that it usually works.
In Venice recently, for example, while not efficient, Lief’s strategy was, again, effective.
Lief hadn’t had time to visit the barber before leaving for the trip, so, our first day in Venice, he decided he’d like to have his hair cut.
The proprietress of the shop where I stopped to buy a pair of hand-stamped sconce shades (to use in the house we’ve built at Los Islotes) apologized over and over, in Italian, for speaking no English.
No, it’s we who should apologize, we assured her, for speaking no Italian.
She smiled and then turned to show us how she stamped each design on to each shade, section by section.
The shades I chose share a pattern from a room in Venice’s Doge’s Palace. The kind Italian lady showed me photos of the original design in a book from her shelf, then covered my shades in tissue paper and packed them safely in a box.
Encouraged by the lady’s helpful manner, Lief decided to inquire about his haircut.
As the woman wrapped my purchase, Lief spoke up… in Spanish…
“¿Dónde puedo cortar?” Lief asked using his best Italian accent and motioning in the direction of the top of his head.
“Ah!” she replied enthusiastically. “Si! Si!”
She knew a place where Lief could go to be coiffed.
The lady grabbed Lief by the shoulder and spun him around to face the stone wall of her small shop. On the flat stone, she drew, with her forefinger, the route from her shop to the barber, a few blocks away.
When she’d finished outlining the route, she cried out, “Ya!” and smacked the stone hard with her open palm, as if to say, “There you have it… piece of cake!”
Then she escorted us to the door and pointed us in the direction we should head.
We found the barber with no problem, and Lief got the most expensive haircut of his life.
Lief and I both have spent the better parts of our lives in places where the locals speak something other than English. We should be more linguistically competent than we are. Lief speaks Spanish. I muddle through in Spanish and get by OK in French, but that’s the extent of our language CVs.
Thus Lief’s strategy… which has his Spanish taking on sometimes an Italian flair… other times it comes out French or German…
The result has me giggling, but it gets us where we need to go (and now and then Lief a new hairdo).