Communicating in Any Language

I always try to talk to cab drivers. First off, it’s polite. Secondly, so many of them have fascinating stories to tell. Our cab rides usually occur in Las Vegas (we have to go there on business), where English is the language of choice. Over the years, we’ve heard the abbreviated life stories of drivers from places like Yemen, Somalia, Turkey, Colombia, and countless other far-flung countries.

We briefly discussed Google Translate in last month’s eNews. And lo and behold, just about the time that email hit the interwebs, Nancy and I were putting Google Translate to good use in an Uber. It was during a 2.5-hour ride from Queretaro Airport to Guanajuato in Mexico. Soon after loading our bags into the trunk and hitting the road, our driver surprised us by launching Google Translate and then peppering us with questions. And amazingly, despite the major linguistic barrier, we had a nice “chat.” Although it was a bit slow, we covered all the topics you’d expect: hometowns, family, sports, weather, and more. Freddy has driven for Uber for about two years. He immigrated to Mexico from Cuba seven years ago and has a wife and two children. Freddy hates the cold, prefers Mexican cuisine to Cuban, and his son prefers baseball to soccer. You already know all about us, so I’ll spare our side of the conversation.

Even in a moving car in the dark, it was easy. We used the voice option of the app and everything we said into the phone was repeated in Spanish by the phone. Yes, we really do live in the future. It’s not perfect, as some of the things Freddy said did not translate well into English, and therefore I’d guess the same was true the other way around as well. But it was fun and informative anyway. Google Translate is now part of our bag of essential travel tools.

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Cab Driver—Once More ‘Round the Block

by Nancy Bestor

IMG_2015When I was a little girl, my Dad talked to everyone he met. He still does. Trips to the grocery store, the post office or the bank would always take a few minutes longer because my Dad would chat with the clerks. He’d find out their names, their ages, and almost always something interesting about them. Then he’d come home and tell my Mom everything he learned. As a teenager, I was incredibly embarrassed by my Dad’s talkative nature. I would cringe standing next to him in line, thinking that these poor people just wanted to get along with their day and really didn’t want anyone, especially my Dad, prying in their business. But then I grew up and realized that people do like to talk about themselves (maybe all except for the age bit), and they enjoy being treated as interesting individuals, and not as servants.

Fast forward to the present, where I find myself talking to people who help me out at the bank, the post office and the grocery store. It’s easy to make friends this way, particularly in our little town of Ashland, Oregon. And when traveling, it’s a great way to learn both about the place you’re visiting and about different cultures throughout our world.

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Apparently, I’ve married someone a bit like my Dad, because when Bob and I are in a new city, riding in a taxi, the first thing he does, after telling the driver where we’re going, is introduce himself, and ask the taxi driver where he is originally from. The majority of drivers we’ve met, whether in New York, Las Vegas, or New Orleans, are immigrants to our country. Most seem delighted to talk about what brought them to the US, and to share details of their home country. We’ve met drivers from Egypt, Kazakhstan, Ethiopia, Sri Lanka and more. We’ve learned about their obtaining green cards and permanent visas via lottery. We’ve learned that in every city, there is a community of immigrants that spend time together, that there are drivers who diligently send money back to their family, and save money too, in the hopes that they can bring more members over to the States. We’ve discovered the best local ethnic places to eat, and learned a lot about civil unrest around the world. We’ve even seen photos of drivers’ children and families.

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I’ll long remember the interesting conversations we’ve had with our taxi drivers, and I hope they might remember them too. Because I imagine it can be a dull job driving people around all day long if they aren’t interested in chatting with you. And maybe I’m sentimental, but I believe talking to people makes our great big world just a little bit smaller. Thanks, Dad.