Tag Archives: Travel Memories

Language Barrier or Bridge?

My previous post regarding discourteous behavior on the part of Americans who are traveling abroad touched upon the challenges encountered whilst visiting countries whose mother tongue differs from one’s own and how many Americans unfortunately handle the situation far too often. Challenges are just one way to label what others may call either a difficulty or, what I would like to view from this day forward, as an opportunity — in general, but in the here and now in the context of travel.

Are you intimidated to select a destination for your next destination on account of the fact that the national language spoken there is not English? Sure, English is the official language of a good many countries…. According to Wikipedia (ok, not the most accurate of all internet sources, but certainly a reasonably reliable one in many instances), English is an official language of 58 sovereign and 21 non-sovereign entities. For those selecting their next travel destination based upon English-friendly countries, click here  for Wikipedia’s list. English is clearly either the official language or at least the primary language of a good number of countries/entities, so travel destinations are relatively many and varied. According to most sources, the world consists of approximately 196 countries, so if English speakers choose to limit travels to only countries where they have a strong sense of comfort due to familiarity with the native tongue, they are still severely limiting themselves in the scope of their travel possibilities.

I’ve always relished the opportunity to expand my horizons and have found distinct pleasure in learning about and experiencing other cultures. While there certainly can be challenges when visiting foreign lands, I welcome those challenges as learning experiences. Again, as noted in my discussion of “Ugly Americanism,” it really doesn’t take much effort to research a small number of handy phrases in the language of your destination, such as “Where is the…” or “Good morning!” or a simple “Thank you.” It isn’t even necessary to memorize the phrases, as a little cheat sheet can do the trick. I’ve found being armed with this tiny tidbit of knowledge to be extremely helpful, empowering and even comforting while traveling abroad. Plus, showing just a wee bit of courtesy to locals fosters an immense amount of good will and opens the possibility to engage in interesting conversation, even if the spoken dialogue may be somewhat limited.

It’s never a bad thing to grasp an opportunity for an educational experience. During my travels, I’ve relished the times my son and I have had chatting with and being bestowed with the kindness of strangers. During my first visit to Croatia in 2009, my son, my friend Jen and I filled the remainder of our port stop in Dubrovnik with an impromptu taxi tour into the mountains above the walled city. At first, we thought we picked the wrong cab driver, since he seemed frightfully surly and unfriendly. But because Jen, Devan and I all can hold a conversation with a (reluctant) turnip, we eventually nudged our taxi guide into opening up to us. We discovered our driver’s name was Zeljko, and that even though we found out he had an excellent command of the English language due to prior visits to the U.S. on container ships on which he was a crew member, he was very insecure with his English skills. We assured him that his English by far surpassed our Croatian capabilities, and he truly seemed to later enjoy putting his language prowess to use.

Bosnia and Herzegovina and Montenegro
That’s Bosnia? Yes, Jennifer.
Fort Imperial on Mount Srđ
Zeljko didn’t park here to find a place to bury our bodies.

As we drove higher into the mountains above the old city, we learned of Zeljko’s pride in his country as he shared his knowledge of the country’s difficult recent history. At the peak of the mountain, Zeljko parked the cab and got out without saying a word. Devan and I wondered if he was looking for somewhere to relieve himself, and Jen became somewhat alarmed when she asked what he was doing, and Devan surmised aloud that Zeljko was probably trying to figure out where to bury our bodies. In truth, he was just looking to see if the Museum of Croatian War of Independence at Fort Imperial atop Mount Srđ was open. It was, and Zeljko was kind enough to play private museum guide during our visit to the museum; the experience we had was enriched by his personal take on each artifact and photo he detailed for us and certainly wouldn’t have been the same had we not gotten Zeljko to warm up to us (even after Jennifer mistakenly referred to him as “Jerko” to his face). Zeljko did show his sense of humor when Jen expressed her shock that we were within a stone’s throw to Bosnia and Herzegovina and Montenegro, as he returned her question with, “Lady, have you ever seen a map?” Zeljko’s language skills were far superior than he had given himself credit for, as his abilities even allowed for a tad of sarcasm! It made me wonder how many visitors on his taxi tours never got the chance to draw Zeljko’s personality out…or possibly more accurately how many tourists’ behavior led him to internalize his kindness and willingness to share his wealth of knowledge and life experience. What a shame.

Museum of Croatian War of Independence, Dubrovnik
Devan in the War Museum
Dubrovnik, Croatia
Devan with Zeljko who wasn’t a Jerko (even though he does look a bit surly)

I was happy that the one word I learned by rote prior to my arrival in Croatia was “hvala.”





Another Nugget of Dad’s Wisdom: Capturing Travel Memories

During the 26 years my dad was in my life prior to his passing, my dad proffered a good amount of unsolicited advice as well as inspirational conversations that stuck with me for a lifetime. Some of these little treasures were deeper than others regarding life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness types of stuff; others were not necessarily life altering, but still powerful and lasting nonetheless. One such topic of discussion arose just prior to his passing in 1995 when my son’s and my closest friends, actually “adopted family” as I call them, invited us over to hear about and see photos of their recent family trip to Italy.

My dad was eager to hear about their trip and live vicariously through their travels, as his health had for some time impeded his ability to travel where walking was involved, relegating him to only van accessible explorations close to home in Florida. As our friends shared their stories, experiences and photos with us, my dad mentioned how much better their trip photos were than ones he had taken in the past. When they asked why he thought their pictures were so special, my dad simply replied that they WERE special photos because our friends were in the photos along with the lovely background scenery; my dad noted that too often during his prior travels, he would snap photos of just a building or a scenic landscape without members of our family in the pictures.

Interlaken, Switzerland
Interlaken, Switzerland is gorgeous, but would have been lovelier in this shot if my daddy were in it (1986)
River Thames, London, England
River Thames, London sans me or my dad (1986)


Seeing our friends’ photos of the family enjoying the travels and each other’s company made my dad realize that, without people in the photos, he may as well have just purchased a smattering of generic postcards. While our friends’ photographs were not taken with the highest quality equipment or even necessarily consisting of the best technical composition, to this day, those photos inspire a sense of nostalgia and warm recollection of the experiences shared during those beautiful , irreplaceable moments together.

Coloseo Rome Italy
Eric at Coloseo, Roma (1995)
Family photo, Alto Adige: Val Senales, Italia
So much more special than a shot of a mountain top (Alto Adige: Val Senales, Italia 1995)
Coloseo, Roma, Italia
Even a trash can as a prop doesn’t detract from family at the forefront (1995)

Since I do have an interest in photography, although I’m hardly a photographer, I’ve attempted to incorporate my dad’s observation into my photographic escapades and combine decent composition with personal touches to allow the photos to inspire fond memories of people and experiences to go along with the pretty setting. Architecture and landscapes oftentimes contain such beauty and detail that they warrant a photograph without anyone blocking the view, so in those instances (which in truth are frequent during my wanderings), I try to be sure to also snap additional shots with my friends or family – and even occasionally ask for someone to get behind my camera so I can be included in the photo as proof that I was present, too – to stamp that moment in time as an experience we shared, rather than just collect pretty pictures that you can find on Google images or some stock image database.

Both architectural / scenic travel photos along with those which include my son, other family members, and me that I’ve taken over the years (and ones that my son shot) adorn my home and populate my external hard drives and online photo albums. While the photographs of lovely objects and places remind me of travels past, the photos which are augmented by inclusion of loved ones inspire a feeling of wistful recollection unmatched by more impersonal shots, no matter how stunning the scene contained within may be. Love and warmth trumps sheer beauty in travel much the same way it does in an individual’s personhood. Nothing beats capturing the best of both worlds.


Nice, France
Nice is pretty…. (2009)
Nice, France
But, Nice is nicer with my son front and center (2009)