Lost in translation

Sloth in tree (climbing down)

This month’s travel link up has been given the topic of lost in translation. It might as well be labelled: ‘Ngaire’.

I find myself constantly lost in translation every day since I started my trip in South America. Yes, sometimes people speak English or understand my gestures and broken Spanish, but almost every day there will be something that provides a funny expression on someone’s face due to what I’ve said or done.

I think as travellers, being lost in translation isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It keeps it real. It also keeps it frustrating when you’re travelling for a long time and can’t master the language. Reminding yourself how slack you are.

In the past I’ve had a few funny moments of being lost in translation though, so I’ll share those.


Testing out my German by buying a bus ticket in Austria

Hagenberg, just outside of Linz, where I studied in Austria

Hagenberg, just outside of Linz, where I studied in Austria

This was many years ago when I was studying in Austria. I’d done several weeks of German class and thought I had a simple sentence down pat. I didn’t. The bus driver kicked me out at the end of the line. I ended up in a small country town, where I could only find one store – an appliance store, where no-one (not even the teenager there) spoke English. Luckily I could contact my kind advisor at the University to pick me up later that day.

Struggling with German Police at 4am

One bright spark in the University in Austria decided it would be funny to spray the fire extinguisher all over the hallway and the room that I shared with another Kiwi. I wasn’t funny. 4am rolled around, and police and fire services had been calling and were banging at our door. We didn’t share a common language to explain anything. Once again the kind advisor joined us at the police station a few days later.


Offering to take a photo in Slovenia

Vintgar walkways, Slovenia

Vintgar walkways, Slovenia

This is one of those moments where you think you’re doing something kind. You see a couple and you make gestures offering to take a photo for them. They laugh and say ‘Yes thanks’. I think they were American. Note to self: don’t assume everyone doesn’t speak English, you’ll become a joke.


Getting frustrated over laundry

After hardly sleeping in a night bus to Salta, I arrived hungry (the food is always rubbish on the buses) and tired. I asked at my hostel where the laundry service was and was directed on a map. Less be said it wasn’t there. I returned and asked someone else and was directed in the opposite direction. It wasn’t there either. I then asked the police. I’m learning police have no idea with directions (this has happened countless times as I ask police for directions often). They sent me in a completely different direction.

Turns out the laundry place was one block over from the first directions. Lesson learnt: always walk around the area you’re given directions, chances are you’ll stumble across what you’re looking for.

Communicating health issues to a doctor

Beach with the path lead in Koh Samui, Thailand

Beach with the path lead in Koh Samui, Thailand

A few days ago I had the pleasure of dealing with this specific issue to a doctor who knows broken English in Ecuador. Sure enough we got the issues understood in the end, but it reminded me so much of my time in a Thai Hospital almost exactly 5 years ago. In both cases the nurse and doctors always ask ‘Are you alone’… ‘wow, you brave’. No shit sherlock, I just want to get better thanks.

I could go on and on, but all my Spanish translation issues will just start to sound sad, so I’ll leave it there with the piece of advice that you should always learn the basics of a language. At least, ‘please’, ‘thank you’, ‘where is the toilet’, and my favourite ‘do you speak English?’ Without these, I’d be lost on any of my travels and seem a lot more impolite.