Thoughts in Luxembourg

“Bonjour” the cashier says.

My response “Hello”.

I did not respond in English because I expect everyone to know my language. As an introvert, I have a script to help me talk to people and Bonjour is not part of that script. I should have practiced beforehand is what I think to myself. Preplanning for an international trip should definitely include, knowing the language and knowing a few phrases to help you get by. I grabbed my items and placed them in my backpack. In Europe, you have to pay for plastic bags. It’s not expensive, but I had a bag, so it wasn’t a big deal. Plus I want to save the planet.

I had the opportunity to travel to Luxembourg. I was actually going there for professional development(PD). My job covered some of the fees and allowed me to take days for it. I say all that to say I don’t want to sound obnoxious with my next statement. Luxembourg is a tiny county between France, Belgium, and Germany. When I found the PD in Luxembourg I planned on taking a day before the pd to visit Paris. When I actually got there, I debated whether I wanted to go to Paris or explore Luxembourg. I decided to stay in Luxembourg for the novelty.

So the next day I planned a trip to Bourscheild Castle, which I wrote about here. Getting around on public transportation there is easy. I use Google Maps for bus routes. I attempted to take this trip the day before, but my inability to read a map properly caused me to believe I was going in the wrong direction. I knew I was going in the right direction because I took that route to get to the store I mentioned beforehand.

Everything was going smooth until I reached Luxembourg Central station. I had no clue what train to get on because Google Maps was not matching up with the train station. I finally found the right train by looking for my stop. I passed the doors where people where getting on to make sure I was getting on the right train. I saw my stop on the screen. I went to the closet door, but it wouldn’t open. “Don’t panic, just try again” “Do I look like a fool?” These are a few of the thoughts running through my mind.

“Bonjour” said the ticket lady.

“Hello” dang I did it again.

“The sign says it’s close” the lady says in an annoyed voice.

I felt so foolish. The sign was not in English, but there was a red circle crossed out in the corner of the window. The universal sign for closed. “Was I rude?” I asked myself. Whenever I encounter an unfriendly person I always asked myself was I rude. I know that some people haven’t a constant chip on their shoulder, but most people only respond to your actions. For example, if I was smiling the train lady may have been friendly. My natural inclination when I’m confused is to focus. I despise looking like an idiot so I play everything cool. Also, I don’t like interacting with strangers and I have to tell myself to check my face and make sure I’m not mean mugging.

After this unpleasant interaction, I was flooded with a bunch of thoughts. Maybe it’s because I’m black, maybe it’s because I look like a child, maybe it’s because I’m not universally attractive, maybe it’s my locs,  maybe she sees me as am American peasant, or maybe it’s simply because I speak English? Aha, that’s it! Here I am walking around like I know what I’m doing and I am just casually responding in English as if people don’t speak another language. A language barrier doesn’t have to only be spoken. There is a body language that exists as well. As a westerner (it feels weird to write that) I’m so use to being accommodated as a customer, so when someone is rude (from my perspective) then it throws me off.

Speaking of language, I realize how rude it is to assume someone will speak English. I also realized how privileged I am to travel internationally and most places have English speakers. It is a privilege to speak a language that most of the world understands. I do not write this in a bragging way. It is important for me to realize the privileges I do have as a black American woman. When the constitution of the United States was writiten “We the people” did not even think of me as a person. It is easy to feel downtrodden as an African American. We don’t know where we come from. Our ancestor’s identity was taken away. I am at times ashamed of my culture and the negative stereotypes that come with being black. So when I speak of privelege this is what I mean. So many things were taken from my people, but at least they gave us English.

On another note, I have to go through so many mental hurdles just to function normally. Peace is important to me because tension causes me to overthink. I don’t like tension, but sometimes I have to confront a situation. Other times I have to go along to get along. In this case learning some French really would have benefited me. If I had it my way I ignore everyone and figure things out on my own. The American in me feels some type of way when I’m not being helped. The introvert in me feels uncomfortable when I’m looked at funny. The perfectionist in me is always asking what did I do wrong? Introspection is important to me because when I have a negative experience I can learn from it instead of harbor negative emotions. I learned that it is arrogant for me to expect people to know English and I will do a better job at assimilating. 

Still on another note, this is my third time being in Europe and here are the top things I like:

-It is normal to be eco-friendly.

– The accessibility of public transportation.

– The accessibility of international travel.

I am not being paid to advertise for Google, but Google Maps and Translate were my savers while in Luxembourg. Have you ever experienced a language barrier? Comment below. Also, follow me on IG where I share more of my experiences.

 

 

4 comments

  1. I was just thinking this in Cairo because in Kuwait, more people know English. It’s a huge barrier and I caught myself thinking, “How dare I come to their country and expect them to know my language. How dare I not prepare.” I’m glad that we can have that honesty hour with ourselves for self improvement!

    • Exactly! Actually for the longest time I chose not to learn Arabic. Even though my time is short in Kuwait, I’m going to put forth the effort to learn.

  2. When I visited Europe, I just memorized “May I speak English” in the local language and had conversations in English.

    Most European countries had colonies where they enforced their languages too. As PoC, we are speaking a language – English – which is closer to them than the language of our ancestors (especially technical terms).

    My biggest challenge was Japan, where my only knowledge of the language was from Anime 🙂

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