Featuring red, yellow, green and blue cards numbered from zero to nine, Uno is a well-known game. I remember sitting cross-legged on the tile floor in kindergarten as classmates tried to teach me the rules, but I never understood. Who would have guessed that more than a decade later I would learn to play from two little boys in Leissiegen, Switzerland?
In 2008 I was selected as an ambassador for People to People and was assigned to stay with a Swiss family on the outskirts of Interlaken. After meeting my family at a ceremony held on Seilpark grounds, I nervously climbed into my homestay mom’s shiny Volkswagen Polo with my new brothers, Killian, and Marius. I knew no German and they barely spoke English; we were all a little apprehensive about the language barrier. We soon arrived at their apartment where both boys rushed up to the third floor. As soon as his mother unlocked the door, Killian pulled me into this room to introduce me to his toys, including a lion named Grrr and a dog named Arf-Arf. His mother interrupted to show me the rest of the house and my room.
While putting my things away, I spotted Marius outside the window hurling Grrr up to his brother who would toss him back down while shouting and giggling. Eventually, a giraffe and Arf-Arf were added to the mix. The sight immediately made me laugh because I had never been around little boys enough to know that they truly are far more rambunctious than girls. Marius looked up and saw me watching them from the window and pointed for Killian to say something. Instead, he yelled something to his brother and dashed into my room across the hall clutching a pack of cards. With few words between us, he said “play” in a questioning tone. I nodded my head in agreement not knowing the game or rules. he motioned for me to follow him into his room where Marius was already seated on the wooden floor.
As it turns out, I knew the game, but not the rules. It was difficult to communicate this to energetic Killian who had already dealt seven cards to each of us. He drew from the pile, placed a card onto the floor, and drew another card. Marius followed his lead. Anxiously I looked between the two who were excitedly waiting for me to place my card on the pile. Killian soon realized I didn’t know how to play. He kindly drew a card from my hand matching the color of the card his brother had discarded. Then, he said something and smiled. When my turn came again, he drew one of my cards that matched the number of the card on the discard pile. After a few minutes I began to catch on and realized he had been trying to teach me the German words for blue, yellow, green, red, and for numbers zero through nine along with the rules of Uno. We ended up playing Uno all afternoon and several other times during my stay with the family.
They showed me the Alps, some waterfall caves, and Lake Thun. However, when I returned to America I was most excited to teach my younger sister the game the boys had taught me. Learning a card game in a foreign language was fantastic. It also taught me that language isn’t a barrier at all when people are open to learning something. To this day I still love Uno.
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