It’s no wonder that my friends from England insist that I
speak American not English. And I often have to ask them
to repeat when we talk. One semester of college French and five
years of Latin didn’t prepare me for speaking anything
except Missouri "farmer talk." We speak our own
language, therefore my travels have put me in some unusual
situations. Only in China did we have the help of interpreters.
In Newfoundland our family disembarked in a barren village,
needing something for our seasick child. There were no stores, as
we know them, but we found a sign in one home that said,
"Coca Cola." I didn’t have to be taught to
pantomime seasickness to a man who spoke their kind of English.
It was "Dutch" to me!
I hurried to the car with the bottle of pop, wondering if
we’d be safe in this land where we saw no other cars, no
trees, no street signs or stores. In fact, we changed our
reservation and shortened our stay. What a mistake! We loved the
place and have returned twice, one time to bicycle 500 miles and
return by freighter a fantastic trip. Their choppy,
rapid-fire jargon soon made sense to us. It was their way of
In China, our group of sixteen cyclists had one male
interpreter and one who was available to us seven gals at night.
She was from Hong Kong and spoke American English. When another
woman hit my bike from the rear and sent me sliding on a muddy
blacktop road, both interpreters walked with me to the
"hospital" the next morning because some cinders had
gone deep and I had pain in the back of the rib cage
The Chinese doctor asked "How did it happen?" The
male interpreter repeated that to the Hong Kong interpreter and
she asked me. My reply went to the interpreters and finally to
the doctor. The doctor also wanted to know when it happened,
where, and finally, "Where does it hurt?"
This relay in three languages went on for almost half an hour,
all of us standing in a dark, crowded room at the doctor’s
desk. The doctor took my blood pressure and wrote a lengthy
report to my personal physician here in Columbia in
Chinese characters of course and all I could read was
"120/72." He put several white pills into three
different envelopes and then shook my hand and said, "Now,
Mrs. Gerard, for the rest of your stay in China, do be more
careful!" He spoke English!
I could speak nothing in Spain, but Julie and Cindy, two of my
student bike tourists, wanted to go there to try out their skill
in Spanish. When the time came, they were too shy to speak a
word! Mina saved the day because she was a great mimic. When we
wanted to borrow an alarm clock, Mina pantomimed "alarm
clock" and the woman immediately produced a clock.
Our language problem on a family trip in Germany was not as
easy as that. Chub had a migraine headache and was resting in the
back seat of our VW van. Near midnight we stopped to talk to a
couple on a side street. Neither of the people understood
English. Their young son stood patiently waiting. My friend
"Petie" Davison asked in French. That was no better.
Then the mother turned to the boy and he said, in grade-school
English, "That corner, left, three, hotel." We found
it. I began the pantomime and finger counting with a woman at the
desk. "Five," I said, pointing to Jimmy Davison, Walt,
Nancy and us two women. "Husband sick in van." I
pantomimed that and continued, "Bed. Go to sleep?"
The woman smiled and said, "Yes, but please speak