After The Accidental Nomad

This blog used to be called The Accidental Nomad and it was the second iteration of travel blogs that I kept during my wandering years. I stopped writing entries when I decided to compile my disjointed little stories into one long story, which eventually was just long enough to call a book. I spent about a million hours editing and rewriting and thinking to myself, “good grief, this is just rubbish, isn’t it?”

And then, this summer, my pet project was taken on by Garreteer Press and it’s going to be published next year. It’s going to be a real book! I still can’t believe it.

blur book stack books bookshelves
Photo by Janko Ferlic on Pexels.com

So what have I been doing in the meantime? When my visa ran out in the United Kingdom, I left Oxford and went to New Zealand, stayed a few months, and then returned home to Canada in the cold, dark winter. Stellar timing on my part. I rented an apartment in Vancouver where I don’t have to share a kitchen and I can horde books and watch the seasons cycle from my balcony.

I didn’t stop travelling, though. In the spring of last year, I joined my sister in Panama and we travelled through Central America together for three weeks. And I’ve got a trip to Ethiopia coming up over the holidays. But things are different now. My trips are shorter. I’m spending more time with my family, whether they like it or not. Instead of abandoning my home like a hermit crab and scuttling in and out of a series of questionable hostels, I’m settled in Vancouver. More or less.

So I’m jumping back into blogging! I’ll be writing about travel, of course, and about what’s going on in the world: politics, news and the international development landscape.

Language Barriers

When you travel, unless you are a polyglot or have the babel fish from The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy in your ear, you will have to deal with language barriers. Even when travelling in a country that uses the same language as yours, there are often barriers — mostly in terms of idioms and cultural differences. For example, when I was in England, I was having a pint with a couple of friends and we were talking about break up hair cuts. I said that I was still trying to grow out the bangs that seemed like a good idea at the time. One of the girls looked at me quizzically. “Oh, you mean a fringe.”

While it is prudent to learn a little of the local language when you visit a country, if only the words for ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ and ‘where’s the bathroom’, it is not necessary to be fluent. In today’s travel scene, more and more people speak at least a little English (handy if you are an English speaker), and translation technology almost makes it too easy (e.g. sites like Google Translate or Smartling, which translates whole websites and apps. For example, if you are in Mexico and go to a client’s site, it’ll automatically be translated into Spanish). Just recently, I met a Portuguese woman who had travelled alone from Austria to Turkey not knowing a single word of any other language than Portuguese. She used a combination of wild hand gestures and Google, and she got by just fine.

The current universal language seems to be hand gestures and the internet (sorry, Esperanto).

In Istanbul recently, a friend and I were having drinks and we were quickly joined by a table full of Turkish men (everywhere we went that day, we were joined by at least one Turkish man, plying us with tea and trying to get us to buy carpets or get married). We had no common language, but we spent a couple very pleasant hours with them, laughing at the fumbled attempts at conversation. At one point, with no trace of irony whatsoever, one of our new friends conveyed that he was shamed by Istanbul’s “man problem”, and then he put his fingers in circles around his eyes and made googly eyed motions, like the cat calls in Bugs Bunny cartoons. The charades, mistakes and confusion only made our conversation that much funnier.

When I worked at a shop in the Australian outback, for a while I was the only native English speaker there. My coworkers were French, my managers were German, and our customers were Alyawarra. The common language was English, and everyone had varying levels of proficiency. In preparation for our New Year’s party, one of the managers, Rainer — who had a solid command of English — was doing the weekly town run in Alice Springs and we had asked him to pick up some wine, beer and Magners cider. About mid-morning, he called me on the work phone and said he was unable to find the cider. I asked him where he had been looking, and he said: “the cheese isle.”

I think, in a lot of cases, the more you assume someone understands you, the more likely there is to be a miscommunication. When my other manager, Sylvia — who spoke barely any English at all — and I would talk, we took our time. We’d use her tablet to Google words, we’d make drawings, point and gesticulate, and we kept asking questions until we were sure we understood each other. She even taught me the accounting program that way. A great many things in life are better when you take your time. Like they say in Turkey, “slowly, slowly; problem no”.

Language barriers can be frustrating when you can’t find something you need or are lost, or when you’re in a restaurant and what you thought you ordered is completely different from what they bring to you (like a friend of mine who tried to order a salad in Argentina but got cow tongue in a vinaigrette instead). But for me, the efforts to communicate and conversations with people from all over the world are a huge part of what makes travel so interesting and entertaining.

England: A Nerd’s Paradise

I love the word “nerd”. If you ignore the pejorative connotations, it’s the cutest word. And, for me, it’s the doorway into a world of treasures, a secret club to which only the nerdy have keys.

Being a nerd, book worm, dork, brainiac, etc, is a lot like a fine wine: it gets better with age. When you’re in grade school, being the smart kid can make you a social pariah, only useful to the cool kids if you let them cheat off your tests (you’re welcome, Edmund). But as you get older, the stigma fades and even flips around: it’s good to be a nerd.

It certainly makes travelling in England that much richer. In the way that some people get star struck by celebrities, exploring the gardens in Oxford where Charles Dodgson (Lewis Carroll) met Alice Liddell, finding the lamp post from the Chronicles of Narnia, and seeing a production of Julius Casear in Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre in London gave me a nerd-high.

 

Christ Church college gardens, where Lewis Carroll met Alice
Christ Church college gardens, where Lewis Carroll met Alice

 

Down the rabbit hole
Down the rabbit hole

 

 

Let's go to Narnia!
Let’s go to Narnia!

 

Library in Worcester College
Library in Worcester College

 

Shakespeare's Globe Theatre
Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre

 

 

Inside the theatre; standing with the rest of the plebs on the ground floor
Inside the theatre; standing with the rest of the plebs on the ground floor

 

The Stage
The Stage

 

Grab a pint with Shakespeare
Grab a pint with Shakespeare