Throughout most of my travels, I've visited lands where the predominant language was either some English variant or Spanish. Luckily for me, I'm fluent in both tongues, so communication isn't an issue.
However, this wasn't the case in France. Even with my most basic of French skills, I still recall the horrors of getting lost in Paris whilst on my honeymoon last year. I reassured my wife that getting to our accommodation in Vincennes would be a seamless process, but after getting off at the wrong stop on the Metro, all sorts of havoc ensued. What was supposed to be a 30-minute ride from Charles de Gaulle morphed into a seemingly endless journey in freezing temperatures with four pieces of luggage in tow. Many times, I'd stop in attempts to get my bearings, but to no avail.
To the Parisians, we probably appeared to be wandering aimlessly, but in reality we were just exhausted from the 10-plus hour flight. After almost two hours, I abandoned my pride and went against everything I've ever believed in -- I asked for directions. You see, I'm not one to admit to ever needing help, even when I need it most. But with an already aggravated wife, my options were limited.
I honestly can't remember how many individuals I stopped for instructions to Vincennes. I know it didn't help that I could barely pronounce the name of the area I was going to spend the next eight days. There were lots of hand gestures, coupled with bits of English and broken French in efforts to get my point across. Needless to say, after many poorly enunciated pleas for directions, we made it to our final destination. Yes, it was three hours later. Yes, my new spouse was less than thrilled with my inability to find our hotel. Still, it made our arrival that much more rewarding. In retrospect, I'd even argue that it was actually a fun, enriching experience.
Once I knew how to get to and from the city center, all was golden. The French language course I took prior to our trip really made a world of a difference. I'd like to think that I fared rather well as an interpreter of sorts for the remainder of our trip. (At least that's what my wife told me. I swear, she does wonders for my ego).
Ever since I was bitten by the wanderlust bug, Thailand has been at the very top of my dream destinations list. The people, the culture, the nature -- it all contributes to the beauty that this country seems to radiate. Not to mention all the sensory organs that are undoubtedly triggered by the magic of this place.
Up until last year, I've always understood Thailand to be one of those places I could never visit due to the complicated language barrier. Nevertheless, as my previous travels to France, western Africa and indigenous areas of Latin America have taught me -- communication can be challenging in countries with a language different than my own, but it doesn't make it impossible. In situations where I've found myself somewhat familiar with the local tongue, it's best to be uninhibited and speak as slowly and simply as possible. You'd be surprised at the end result.
To say that I'll experience some difficulty navigating throughout the land of smiles, would be quite the understatement. Still, I refused to be discouraged from embarking on this adventure and finalized my travel plans last month. In April, I'll be visiting the Kingdom of Thailand, with a possible Cambodia excursion to explore the sights of Angkor Wat. Ideally, I would have liked to go somewhere off the beaten track, as parts of Thailand have become increasingly touristy. Although, I'm guessing from a linguistic standpoint, this isn't necessarily such a bad thing.
As a former salesman, I was forced to bring out some rusty techniques to convince the wife of the Kingdom's worthiness, and while it took a bit of convincing (perhaps even some begging), I'm thrilled that I'll be dragging her along. It'd definitely be most interesting to see how two Floridians take on Southeast Asia.
Cheers to all the that mispronunciations, wrong turns, missed train stops, and aimless wandering that inevitably await us! After all, they make for the best stories, don't they?