One of the things I love about traveling is the variety of languages you get to hear during the day.
In a five minute time span yesterday afternoon while visiting Hallgrímskirkja, Reykjavik’s iconic Lutheran church, we had a conversation in German with a couple from Koblenz, then a few words in Spanish with a fellow, followed by a conversation with another New England couple and, of course, English.
We’ve been hearing and having conversations like that all week, and it’s one of my secret payoffs of a vacation abroad.
When my dad got done with his pediatric residency, the first thing he did was to lobby his advisor for an assignment overseas. He was offered a post in Africa but turned it down because he couldn’t take my mom with him. Then he got an offer to go to Peru for a year or two to focus on infant nutrition, and, in feeding his wanderlust, he jumpstarted mine and my sister’s.
My love of travel grew to include a love languages. We picked up a fair amount of Spanish during our two stints in Peru and then later in school. Traveling to see family in Europe give us a chance to pick up German which we also took in school. I took Arabic for a brief time during the first Gulf War in conjunction with a course on Middle East history, and picked up a smattering of French, Russian, and Italian during travels in Eastern and western Europe and from my beloved Pimsleur cassettes. We got the Pimsleur CDs for Icelandic a few months ago and, over the past few days, we’ve been adding vocabulary and trying to improve pronunciation.
One of the things I’ve noticed, is that while at first a new language may seem totally different from any others, eventually recognizable patterns appear. There are overlaps from other languages and cultures that could only result from a deep connection in our histories, whether through conquest, trade or migration. I think that’s what I love about languages.
They’re rich in their differences, but ultimately they all tell a story of how we’re all connected as one human family.
I was thinking about picking up a pendant with the ægishjálmur (the Helm of Awe) or the (Vegvísir, to help find your way through storms), but I decided to make my own. Mine is the Nomad’s Magical Stave of Connectedness.
To use it, all you have to do is wave at the person sitting in the row of seats across from you at the airport or at the bus station or at the next table.
And it’s not just for the people who hop on a plane or bus to go somewhere; it’s for all of us wander, looking for that human connection.
And I think there may be a lot of us like that these days.