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How Do We Communicate When We Don’t Speak the Same Language?

The kids and I recently traveled to New York City. I have to share this experience.

One evening, the girls and I were walking around Times Square and we became enamored with a particular outfit on the woman walking ahead of us.

If you know me, you know I can’t pass up an opportunity to compliment someone so, as we got closer, I tapped her on the shoulder. “We love your outfit,” I told her.

She looked straight at me with no expression on her face. I repeated myself. She cocked her head to the side and looked confused. That’s when I realized she didn’t speak English.

How do you ask, “What language do you speak?” if you don’t know what language someone speaks? I asked in English. She answered, “Italia.”

I paused for a moment, trying to think of something to say in Italian and quickly responded, while pointing to her clothing, “Bella!” Her face lit up with a smile, she said “grazie!” and blew us a kiss.

The kids and I viewed this interaction fondly because, with every step we took in New York City, we heard a different language. We weren’t always able to communicate with anything more than a smile. That city welcomed us, tourists and immigrants alike, with open arms and acceptance. It felt nice to return the favor.

I was born and raised in Louisiana and I moved away after race riots left me feeling angry, baffled, and longing to seek a place where race didn’t matter, sexuality didn’t need to be hidden, and religion was your own private relationship with your own truth. I naively thought that’s how the world should be, even when I wasn’t always seeing it in my hometown or demonstrating it in my everyday interactions. I thought I saw things differently then, only to realize that I am still judgmental and biased. I still have much to learn.

In New York City, we were surrounded by so much diversity – different cultures, foods, fashions, accents, languages, religions – not to mention we fell madly for drag queens in a Broadway show. 😁

Do you know that 8.5 million people live in a 300 square mile area? CLOSE QUARTERS. NYC is a melting pot, literally, of people from all across the world.

It felt good to see differences set aside to share that tiny island. Maybe it was all in my mind. Maybe it was just what I needed to see. It nurtured my hope in love and acceptance.

So saddened to see the hate escalating in Charlottesville, Virginia. I wish we could find a way to communicate and heal.

What is the secret about the diversity and acceptance in NYC? What does it take for us to live together despite our differences? How do I ask, “what language do you speak?” if we’re not speaking the same language?

Categories:   chronicles, random musings, travel, world events

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