The luxury of travel is not one every teenager has the pleasure of experiencing. I knew, even before I left, that my time abroad should be appreciated and not taken for granted. What I hadn’t accounted for was the immersion into a world so unlike my own that my family was sometimes the only people who understood me.
One day after a visit to the Palace of Versailles in Paris, my family and I had been sitting mutely on a train coach when a large group of Spanish speaking people came jubilantly aboard. The family and friends spread throughout the coach, subsequently dominating the train. I sat quietly as I observed the glow that vibrated off the Spaniards as they yelled joyfully back and forth to each other, catching only pieces of the conversation. The women appeared to be the most social in the family, making jokes right and left. Three Chinese teenage girls observed with the same sense of reserve, speaking softly to each other in Chinese. A young woman, who chuckled at the Spanish jokes, smiled as she spoke Italian to her sister. Languages twisted around me with grace, flowing from the mouths of many different people.
Later that afternoon we went to eat at a cafÃ© serving Italian food in France. Knowing neither French nor Italian, I looked at the menu as if it was pure nonsense. The combination between the French words applied to the Italian entrÃ©es made the selection almost completely indecipherable. Looking to our waiter for help, I asked him what the word GruyÃ¨re meant, as it was included in the pasta dish my father suggested. Attempting to explain the ingredient, the waiter fumbled over the English words. Knowing some French, my father picked up that the food was a fromage, a cheese, of which is highly ranked in my book of flavors. Under the impression all obstacles had passed, my family and I attempted the act of ordering. Once again, my dish was the culprit of the trouble: the waiter tried to explain an absence in my meal. Under the impression that my dish was completely unavailable, I began frantically scanning the foreign menu once again. The waiter looked at me in confusion, repeating his speech slower this time. Through complicated combinations of languages, we finally realized he was simply saying my dish was only available in white sauce instead of red. Upon paying for our meal, we left a few extra euros in compensation for the misunderstandings throughout our stay. Muttering an “au revoir”, we stepped out the door.
I pondered over the recent events that day, thinking about the meaning of different languages. I realized that had I not left the United States, I never would have found myself at a loss for words. But as I traveled farther from home, I learned to make up for my lack of common language through body expression. The world doesn’t revolve around English; it doesn’t even depend upon one unified language, but solely on the respect and appreciation of the differences in many cultures.
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