A Family RTW Travel Adventure (2008-2009)
Random header image... Refresh for more!

Lost in Translation

When I was about 16 years old, our family loaded our blue Pontiac station wagon and, for our summer vacation, drove north to Montreal.

I had two years of French from Madame Ewell, and I had assured my father I’d be able to translate for the family while we were in Canada.

I’ll never forget arriving at the Montreal Holiday Inn.  As we pulled our car into the hotel garage a bellman approached.  I got out of the car, ready to parlez-vous francais.  The bellman spoke.  To me, it sounded like unintelligible gibberish.  This wasn’t the French Madame Ewell spoke.

I stood there in stunned silence.  I could see my father’s face getter redder and redder.  I can only assume he was hurriedly devising a Plan B since I would clearly be no help.

My own experience as a father has been quite different.  Quite simply, I’m not sure how Dani and I would have managed if our kids didn’t speak Spanish.  They have handled all the difficult transactions, the questions and answers, and when required, the small talk.

When we did find people who spoke some English, comical conversations often ensued.

Once in Ecuador, I had a twenty minute conversation with a guide. He asked “What kind of cars are popular in the United States?”  I explained about the popularity of Japanese cars, the rapidly improving cars from South Korea, and the difficulties facing the American auto industry.

He nodded the whole time.

Then I asked him about cars in Ecuador. He said: “We have many kinds.  We try to eat some every day.  Roasted.  Boiled.  We use it to make bread.”  Turns out the topic was corn – not cars.


One of our last days in Quito we visited the San Francisco Monastery.

As we entered, a young man approached us and asked if we would like a guided tour.  His English seemed quite good, so we accepted.  He was a young man, about 25, with kind eyes and a gentle demeanor.

He led us through the monastery, explaining each work of art – the religious symbolism and history behind it.

Near the end of the tour he told us about his dream to study in the United States.  He had applied to a program in Texas, and expected to hear soon if he had been accepted.

I asked him how he had learned to speak English so well.  He said he had studied it in school, but had really improved his English by listening to American TV shows and movies.

Then he told us this story:

He had been watching a lot of action movies featuring African-American actors and had learned many new words and slang terms.  He was always looking for opportunities to use the new words he had learned.

One day, an African-American couple visited the Monastery – a rare occurrence.  He sensed an opportunity.

He walked up to the couple, held out his hand and said: “What’s up [n-word]! Want a tour of the monastery, my man?”


1 Sharon { 11.12.08 at 1:35 pm }

Ouch! Nice punchline. I visited Martinique as a child, the first time being before I knew any French apart from oui and non. It was a steep learning curve, but I was amazed how much we all communicated in spite of the barriers.

2 Nomadic Matt { 11.13.08 at 8:51 am }

Lol. great finish. learning another language is so very helpful. are you kids fluent in spanish?

3 Doug Spiro { 11.13.08 at 9:38 am }

Muy Bien story Craig. I had similar experiences in Peru. It made me wish I had paid more attention in High School Spanish.

When you return you should print out all of your stories and put out a book with some of your fantastic pictures.
I would buy a copy!

4 A Travel Around The World { 11.16.08 at 10:58 am }

Hi Craig, nice story.
When I arrived in London 6 years ago I did not speak English; it was very difficult time for me. In England I met a lot of people from Spain and South America; they teach me Spanish, for me was quite easy to learn as is a Latin language.
I learned Spanish before English in England lol.
Take care

5 Molly { 11.24.08 at 7:32 pm }

Oh my god! Thats hilarious! And Canadian french is much different than regular french…a lot different…

Creative Commons License