Posts Tagged ‘Directions’

Mountains and Soccer

Saturday, May 30th, 2009

I suppose it’s because I’m the youngest and most harmless looking of the group, but I (Matt) am often the one sent to ask locals for directions. The claim of harmlessness may be questioned but let’s be perfectly honest, I stand 5′6″ and weighed only 139 pounds before the trip. Also, I can grow nothing more than peach fuzz. I even struggle with pronunciations. Needless-to-say, these limited interactions make interesting stories. On the British Isles, at least I could be understood. Admittedly, I asked one Irish man to repeat his directions three times before I understood his thick accent. I have spoken with several people on the mainland who understood only limited English and it’s always a strange dance. My first experience of this was with the young illustrator in Pontoise, France (see my Paris blog). We both experienced the awkward pauses as we tried to remember the right English words to express ourselves. Several times we understood each other before we found those words. I have no excuse; English is my first language but I still struggle to guess which words foreigners will understand. The same phenomenon occurred with the youth group in Bad Pyrmont, Germany. I’m learning how much I can pick up through inflection and body language. It’s such a wonderful experience to share the train of thought with someone so that you know what they mean to say before the say it.

When asking for directions, I generally encounter people with even less knowledge of English. We followed one man in his car about 7 km in Norway after I he had spoken only one word of English to me. I had asked for directions at a roadside restaurant and one man had understood my question for the nearest train station. “Friend going to Halden.” The men exchanged some words and then the latter pointed to his car then to me. “Follow.” Just yesterday we followed another man while looking for the highest point in Estonia. When I couldn’t make myself understood to a local, he pointed one direction and said, “Latvia.” I shook my head. “Rouge [Estonia],” pointing the opposite direction. I nodded emphatically. “Son. English,” he said and motioned us to follow him. We drove into Rouge but never did find this “Son.” I found a grocery store manager who only knew Estonian and one English word, mountain. I am still not sure how she knew what I meant when, in searching for a way to convey our intentions of seeing the highest point in Estonia, I tried the word. There are positively no mountains in Estonia. The highest point we found was 296 meters above sea level. In any case, she ended up outside the grocery store , kneeling beside me and tracing the roads we should follow in the dirt. Apparently, finding the “mountain” meant a few turns and the rightmost road when one branched into three.

Friday afternoon in Stockholm, I tired of waiting for the guys to return for exploring the town so I walked over to a nearby school and approached one of the adults monitoring the recess yard. “American, can I join?” pointing to the dozen or so boys playing soccer. He hadn’t heard me correctly and somehow asked thought I was from Barcelona. I almost played along since their soccer team had won the Champions League final the night before. I expressed regret that I couldn’t speak Swedish and the man laughed. “That’s okay, football is international.” I had a blast madly running around with the boys and met Gabriel and Carlos, two boys on the Cubs, the team that drafted my services. We made an impressive combo; we held the other team scoreless and I served up an assist to Carlos who placed the ball in the net with a smart flick of his Crocs. High-fives all around. We hit it off and they ran inside after the end of recess yelling behind them, “You awesome!” “No, no,” I grinned, “You!” Some things need very little shared language to be communicated.

Matt