The stress of train travel in a non-english speaking country can not be adequately addressed with just the simple use of the word "stressful". This is not true in every instance, but there are the occasional rides that stick out above the pack. Our journey from Austria to Poland was an interesting one falling into the uber stressful category. At one point I was left standing in the doorway of the train, with ALL of our combined luggage thrown haphazardly over my shoulders, straddling the gap with one foot in the train and one on the platform, watching anxiously for Jodi's head to bob up the stairs with our tickets in hand. The plan was to either jump to the platform if the train began to leave before she returned, or to heroically extend my free pinky towards her to pull her up onto the train as it pulled away from the station if she succeeded in getting the tickets. Time after time I have found myself sitting perched on the edge of my seat with my nose plastered to the window and hands hooked through my luggage, with feet ready to run as I look to see which station the train is arriving at. If it's my stop, I might have about 1-2 minutes to gather my belongings and squeeze through the open doorways. It is of no help to me that for the past 10 minutes the conductor has been announcing our upcoming stop and several other snippets of important information because I am constantly reminded of just how little I know in the realm of foreign languages. We have now gotten smart and decided that buses are the way to go.
I am incredibly thankful that everyone else in this world is far more cultured and educated than the average American and they DO know other languages, especially English. Because in talking with them, it is THEY that save me every day because it is THEY that know enough of another language to communicate with me. I am the stupid one. At this juncture, I slap my forehead and realize that, once again, I need to stretch beyond what is standard and typical in my own society and step into another world of culture and education.
At one point I found myself becoming agitated at them for not speaking MY language in THEIR country. I quickly reprimanded myself and set about making up for my thoughts with a plethora of over-zealous smiles and winks.
Those blank conversations when they are speaking directly at me in a completely different tongue can be both agitating and amusing. Knowing the context of the situation is critical. Like for instance, take the Polish ticket collector on the train..when he said "blah blah blah" and I resigned to answering "Euro?" with an upturned question mark in order to determine that, Yes! We are speaking about what type of currency I will be paying with. Or the take the German lady who was sitting in front of us at the German movie theater, which was showing an English movie with German subtitles. By the 3rd time around, it was quite evident that her turning fully around in her seat and hissing at us using an especially forceful combination of German words meant that she did not in fact appreciate the rustling of our package of gummy bears during the movie. Didn't need Rick Steve's translation book for that one.
It is most unfortunate to be walking down the street and to overhear the people behind you talking about how uneducated and ignorant many Americans appear to be. What was even more unfortunate was that after listening (yes eavesdropping) further into the conversation was the realization that what they were saying was in all actuality fact rather than fiction. I was rendered speechless of a rebuttal because although they happened to be talking about a few specific encounters with some rather daft people who had no idea that Hungary was also a country and not just a reference to getting the munchies, they also hit on some points about our country that were sadly true. Things such as we don't even know our own geography, much less that of the world; also mentioned is that we know nothing outside our own politics and our own language. I wish I could refute these statements, but I am sadly one of those daft Americans.
There are several key things that are super important to take note of and learn fairly quickly when entering a new country. These are the things that will stave off awkward moments of classic American embarrassment.
1) What is the word for "women" in regards to the restroom? This is of superb importance, especially when my usual method of looking for the image of the girl in the skirt fails me due to the lack of pictures on the door. I was sadly mistaken in Austria when I entered the "Herren" instead of the "Damen". Oops. Auf Wiedersehen to you too, sir. Thankfully, "WC" seems to be the universal abbreviation for "water closet", so I am safe in assuming that is a good direction to head when in need of a bathroom break.
2) What are the words for push\pull? If you pull when the door clearly says "Drucken", you will look like me when I successfully face planted into the glass door, leaving a smudged imprint of my humiliated expression.
3) Just because they are speaking to you with a rare blend of accents does not mean that you have to alter your own American accent in order for them to better understand you. I have to physically stop myself from over-enunciating and adding and subtracting syllables at my own free will. Just speak English, Stacia.
4) What is the word for "exit"? I've learned it's always a positive thing to head toward the initiation points of the wind tunnel and sunlight. It's worked out for me so far as I have not fallen off any train platforms yet.
5) Deciding which direction to go based solely on the first and/or last letter of the street name is not always the smartest idea. Especially when you are in Austria or Germany and every other street name ends with -gasse, -straBe, or -platz! Just pick what sounds most similar and go with it. Hackeshacke becomes Hacky Sack Road. And Spaunade becomes Cocker Spaniel Ave. Done and done.
6) Always ask for water with "no gas" to ensure you will have a refreshing drink rather than one that tastes of bitter bubbles. And I will never again take for granted the never-ending supply of free water at American restaurants, as the European ones seem to get pleasure out of seeing who can charge the most for a 1-L bottle.
7) Try as I might, simply gurgling my throat followed by a few coughs does not translate to German and I might as well surrender any and all attempts at speaking this particular language, as I am sure I have fully insulted an entire country by now.
I'm learning though...every day, I am watching and I am learning:)