The other week at lunch, we talked about international travel and navigating airports... what would it be like as a non-English speaker trying to transfer flights or find baggage claim?
This subject came up because one of our Glyph friends has her mama coming to visit soon from overseas... Mama speaks French, but no English.
We wondered if big airports have enough bilingual guides or help agents. Big airports are confusing enough as they are, without the variable of language barrier: They're all laid out differently, with gates numbered in different ways across different wings. Traveling across the world involves changing planes, probably in more than one country, with a lot of people.
Crossing a border also involves rechecking your luggage for it to be searched. Imagine having to go back out of the secure area, retrieve and recheck your bag, and get back through security in a place where nobody speaks your native language.
"I'm worried she will get lost," our friend said a while back. What if her flight is delayed? Will she find her way to the next gate in time? It's one thing to think about an acquaintance making their way around an airport, but it's a much bigger worry when it is one's mama traveling to a foreign country by herself. I, for one, would NOT be ok with my mama traveling to a foreign country by herself.
We were considering the possibility that Mama might befriend a fellow traveler who can navigate with her. This happens, Pinyin Minion said... One time she was on a flight to Taiwan and she saw some other travelers becoming very fast friends. The Queen's Spellchecker joked that she had been "adopted by" a whole crew of extremely friendly ladies during her flight to the States. Good and friendly people are everywhere, someone said. Our friend was also going to mail her mama a prepaid cell phone, to call for help if necessary and hand the phone to an agent.
Have you ever traveled internationally? Did you go alone? What were the most challenging moments in which to have a language barrier?
The New Yorker published this comic by cartoonist and former TWA pilot Leo Cullum (1942-2010) in November 2001.