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Tuesday, 29 June 2010

Feeling Smug

By Mary B Summerlin who keeps a photostream at Flickr

Last spring, I and four other ladies went to Italy for two weeks. We would be staying in a villa on the Mediterranean Sea in Tuscany.

We arrived safely on a Sunday. We spent the rest of that day unpacking and reorienting ourselves. The next day, Monday, we went to a street market in a nearby town. It was full of material in many beautiful colors, many crafts, plants and vegetables, clothes and other household items. Our group of five split up and designated a meeting place for later.

I finished earlier than the others and was sitting on a bench in the parking lot. I was feeling pretty smug about myself. I was visiting in a foreign country, had learned the money system, had managed the airport routine and my friends and I were making plans to do many fun and exciting things. I was feeling so smug, I was great, on top of the world!!

A young African man came up to me with a sack of things to sell. They were pretty and colorful but I shook my head and said no. He offered more things and a price and remarked “good price, good price.” Each time he pulled something else out of the bag, I shook my head. Finally he gave up. Business was slow in the parking lot so he thought he would spend some time conversing with me.

Our conversation went something like this, with a lot of finger pointing and head nodding and shaking.

“You speak English?”

I nodded my head and said, “Yes.”

He shook his head and said, “Little English” and pointed to himself, “Very little.” Then he said, “You speak French?”

Once again I shook my head and said, “No.”

Then he asked, “You speak Spanish?”

Again I said, “No.”

Then he tried German and Africanize.I shook my head, no, for all. Then he shrugged his shoulders and pointed to me and used one finger and said, “You speak only English?”

I said, “Yes.”

He said, “Sorry,” shrugged his shoulders and walked away.

I didn’t feel so smug anymore. I felt dumb!! That young man, I’m sure, did not have the education I have but he could converse in many languages.

All of a sudden, I had a new perspective. I didn’t feel so smug anymore.

[INVITATION: All elders, 50 and older, are welcome to submit stories for this blog. They can be fiction, non-fiction, poetry, memoir, etc. Instructions for submitting are here.]

Posted by Ronni Bennett at 05:30 AM | Permalink | Email this post


I know how you feel, Mary.

I have a Puerto Rican DIL whose parents speak only Spanish and I speak only English.

When I was introduced to the Mother we smiled at each other and I said " I'm sorry I don't speak Spanish so we could talk to each other." My DIL told her Mother what I had said and the Mom began to cry.

She said to her daughter, "Everybody always says they can't talk to me because I don't speak English. This is the very first time someone said it's because THEY don't speak Spanish."

A great reminder that we Americans are not the center of the universe, even though we think we are.

Yes, we are smug. It upsets me when I hear Americans complain about things being printed in both English & Spanish. Are they afraid they might just learn something??? W

Good story, Mary. I agree with Dani--would it hurt so much to learn some basic Spanish? (She says, having forgotten most of 2 years of Spanish in school, and 1 year of French!)

Hi Mary,
Very touching. Garrison Keillor says there is no cure for "monolingualism."

Thank you all for your comments. Judy - "monolingualism" thanks for the new word.

During my professional career I was embarrassed every time we met with counterparts in Germany or France, where our discussions took place in perfect English. Then when they came to Boston, the conversations continued in English.

When I turned 70, I decided to take action, by striving to learn to speak Italian. (Both to learn a foreign language as well as to try and delay dementia!)

I wish I had done this at an earlier age, when my learning mechanisms were far less rigid.

Ciao - Sandy

Americans can be so smug. When traveling in Europe I had to eat humble pie when I discovered how little I knew about the countries I visited and how much they knew about America.

No todos los Americanos son tontos, y nosotros somos el centro del universo. :-)

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