Uno, due, cha-cha-cha! she shouted. Sinistra! Destra! Cha-cha-cha!
Hubby and I struggled to keep up. We could hardly see the petite woman at the front of the crowd. Thank goodness she had a microphone. Too bad we don't speak Italian.
Uno, due, girarsi! I heard through the music. Luckily I saw her hand/arm motion, spinning above her head. Turn around! I shouted at Hubby. We're supposed to face the other way.
It was a beautiful, sunny day on the ship. Hubby and I recently went on one of our adventure trips, this time a cruise of the Western Mediterranean, visiting ports in Spain, Portugal and Morocco. (Yes, it's possible to travel while unemployed/underemployed. Remember my post Financing a Lay-Off ?)
Always up for fun and excitement, we decided to participate in the cha-cha lessons on the pool deck.
I ™m pretty sure the group we were traveling with thought we were nuts. Of course they probably thought that before we began the Italian cha-cha lesson.
Determined to learn the dance so we could show off our skills in the disco later that night (we heard there was a prize, which I ™m sure was a free scoop of gelato) we tried our best. While we may have missed some of the finer points due to our limited knowledge of Italian, I think we danced a mean cha-cha.
At least the Italians were smiling at us. We prefer to think they were encouraging us, not laughing at us.
Hubby and I are used to traveling to distant points, where language is sometimes tricky. This was an entirely new experience. Out of 2,300 passengers on our ship, only 90 of us had English as our native language “ and very few in this group were Americans.
Announcements on the ship were made in Italian first; the other languages followed. This was cultural nirvana “ the chance to interact with a variety of languages and attempt to converse.
Hubby and I try to learn at least a few phrases of the native language where ever we go. Our goal is to fit in with the culture as much as possible, using and learning more phrases during our visit. Still, sometimes the barrier is just too much.
Take our last trip to Rome with dear friends A & M. All of us had previously traveled to and/or lived in Italy, so we felt confident of our ability to at least order in a restaurant. Easy, no? No. An order of pasta for A, pizza for M, Hubby orders a meat dish and a salad for me. Si , we tell our waiter. Con il pane, per favore , (with bread, please). That's what we want for lunch. In the states, this would be simple.
I ™m not sure which dish came out first, but it didn't matter. The waiter seemed to be under the impression that we wanted to eat individually, each one finishing their meal before he brought out the next dish. After about twenty minutes, three of them arrived. My salad was still MIA.
Sir, said M. Ensalata mista, per favore . Yes, we are aware of her salad , said the waiter. OK, so if you're aware of it, where is it? Grazi , we replied. He smiled and left.
This Italian version of who's on first went on for quite some time. What should have been a 45 minute lunch took us almost two hours, with us asking about the salad and the waiter telling us he was aware .
We had fun with this tale throughout the trip and reference it to this day. The language barrier became an amusing story instead of a frustrating meal. Each night on our recent cruise, Hubby and I would smile when our Indian waiter brought our salads. He was definitely aware of our need for salad; although I ™m sure he wondered why we thought it was so funny. Unfortunately Hubby and I don't know any Hindi phrases so we couldn't explain it to him.
Finding ourselves on a ship with limited foreign language skills was interesting. We managed, although we frequently wished we had learned another language at some point during our academic lives. It's not too late, but it's one of those things that you don't think about until suddenly faced with it. (I can point out the benefit to Americans of learning other languages, but that's another story for a later date)
Being out of the work force for a year or two can bring similar barriers. Technology advances so rapidly that if we don't make an effort to stay on top of the changes we could find ourselves less employable than ever. As an architect, Hubby is trying to keep up with the shift to a new computer program lest he fall behind. It's the first thing asked during job interviews; is he proficient with this new technology?
Unlike learning foreign language phrases for a trip, staying on top of industry skills is serious business. I ™ve said it before: understanding even simple things like Linked In, Facebook and whatever tools are specific to your industry can be the ticket to a new job. Ignore learning new things and face the consequences.
Hubby and I choose to continue to learn, explore and grow, even if it costs us some money. It's an investment in our future employment.
Besides, we know how to cha-cha now, which I ™m sure is good for the resume. Of course we can only cha-cha in Italian.
© Tami Cannizzaro 2011 All Rights Reserved