You wake with the sun streaming through your balcony windows as a cock crows in the distance. There’s a slight chill in the air, but a scarf is enough to stave off the cold as your footsteps echo down the marble staircase, nodding at the old lady with the cane shopping basket as you pass her fussing over her poodles outside her first floor apartment.
Negotiating the narrow alleyway’s slippery cobblestones requires the skill and patience of an old soul, and you pick up the pace us the church on the hill strikes nine. The marketplace is bustling already with shopkeepers and their customers, selling everything from fresh bread, cheese, vegetables and flowers. Your heart flutters momentarily as the faint sound of a piano accordion floats down from the town square, and you pause to wonder what your friends and family are doing at this moment in their dreary, suburban lives that you too shared not so long ago…
There’s two possible methods for travelling to non-English speaking countries. Firstly, there’s the unashamed, shorts wearing, camera touting, refusal to speak the lingo, tourist method, and then there’s the “blend in” method, where you slide seamlessly in and out of the landscape, the locals none the wiser of the gringo in their midst. Of course we all aspire to the latter, but who are we kidding?
One of my favourite games to play on holiday is one that can help you feel like you actually belong. Try this next time you are overseas and not only create some mirth for you and your family or friends, you might even surprise yourself!
So here’s what you do to win the game – you must go into a local shop, market stall or restaurant and procure whatever goods and services you require, then pay and leave, all without speaking a single word of English. You might only need a few words – bon jour, ciao, ola – or if you’re in a country where the locals are down-right rude and arrogant, then a few grunts and some pointing can sometimes be enough to win the day.
Try a fun variant of the game in an English speaking country, this time by emulating the local accent. Swap a “gidday” for a “howdy” or “halloo” and watch the local’s face to see if your venture has been successful.
The winner gets a year in an unnamed town, in a country far, far away, in an apartment above an old lady who owns two pampered poodles…