Busting down a Berlin Wall of Language Barriers

While in Normandy doing a work-exchange for a month I did various works ranging from woodwork to vacuuming. Sometimes not sharing a mutual language with my coworkers. One project I was assigned was to help another worker, Leonardo, extend the wood shed and lay a concrete floor. Mike (my host and WWII movie partner) ordained me Leonardo’s Gopher, a role that doesn’t work so well since Leonardo comes from Italy, AND doesn’t speak english, AND hasn’t a clue what “go for” means. Either way, I was Leonardo’s Gopher for four days and we had a serious problem: communicating. On the day after the concrete had dried over night I walked across it to get a tool. I didn’t get very far before Leonardo shouted NO NO NO NO NO NO. No what?! No what!? I asked. Every which way I feigned to step he shouted louder! “WHAT THE FUCK ARE YOU SAYING NO FOR!!!”–I wanted to scream! But even if I did scream he wouldn’t have known what I said anyways! What was I to do? Usually the International Language worked for us but trying to speak it isn’t as easy when I’m being yelled at. We had our language barriers and we had our way around them. The International Language.
Meow. Moo. Huh? Ouch! Smiling. Rihanna. FC Barcelona. Pointing. All are part of the international language. Anyone who has mastered the international language is a genius at Charades. Anyone who can is a genius at charades has ingenious hand gestures. Anyone who has ingenious hand gestures can convey basic thoughts. And anyone who can effectively do that, can speak the international language.
When Leonardo wanted a hammer he’d say tac tac tac. When he wanted me to shovel three loads of sand into the concrete mixer he’d hold up three fingers. When he wanted to talk about finding diamonds he’d sing “Shine bright like a diamond.” It was amazing what we could talk about with only a few words. Once a few words were established we expanded our vocabulary. It grew exponentially. Family unlocks brother unlocks sister unlocks sister in law etc… Our language developed into an upside down pyramid from just a few building blocks composing the base.
Leonardo told me he owns a small construction and architecture company in Italy. His brother worked with him but recently quit. Now Leonardo is taking a break from working and is traveling through France. Why France? Because after he passes a French test the Catholic Church will fly him to Africa for missionary work. Before Normandy he was in Brittany, France until his drunk work-exchange host threatened him with a knife. He’s a wiz with a knife. He learned everything he knows about cooking from his mom and from working in a restaurant. On my first night he made pizza for everyone. The best pizza I’ve ever had was made by an Italian in France. An incredible chef he is. When he was young he and his brother had to be very independent. Father was hardly around and mother worked in the morning when he got ready and left for school. He doesn’t remember much about his father. He knows my father is a business man and that my family is from the greater Sacramento area. He knows just as much about me as my english speaking hosts.
Language does create barriers but it’s not the Berlin Wall. Don’t let it discourage you from traveling and finding a way around language. Go under go over go around it.

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2 Responses to Busting down a Berlin Wall of Language Barriers

  1. Aunt Lisa says:

    So, did you ever figure out why Leonardo was screaming NO at you?

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