Don’t Get Lost In Translation
“That’s the scent of a man,” a beautiful 20-something Italian woman said to me when she saw me crinkle my nose as a man walked past us. She spoke English well enough for me to pick up on the subtext that she was irritated with the face I made.
True, that’s all the smell was — a strong scent of a person who had been dancing all night with no deodorant. I wasn’t used to that and immediately was embarrassed for reacting that way. I tried to see it from her perspective, before I put my American expectations all over it. The scent of nature. The scent of hard work and sweat as God intended.
This was Naples, Italy, and I was 20. As the only American in most of the clubs and bars I frequented, I tried to stay as low-key as possible, so being called out while I was in the bathroom line was a huge blow. I wanted to make friends, but I still only knew how to order more wine or bread. If there was a conversation to be had, it needed to be with someone who knew English, which was already embarrassing. I just wanted to fit in.
It took three years for me to finally graduate from food orders and asking directions to the bathroom to being able to understand what my Italian friends were talking about and answer them back in complete sentences. It was cool the way it sort of all came together at once — like when Brendan Fraser was all of a sudden speaking Spanish in the movie Bedazzled and was all surprised. “Hey! I’m speaking Spanish!” he said in perfect Spanish as the English subtitles appeared on the screen. Becoming fluent in a language when you’re living in that environment is quite similar to that. It just happens, after a long time.
Even with the initial language barrier, I still managed to make Italian friends. Talking with them and paying attention to their body language helped me begin to pick out the same phrases and words, which really was invaluable.
This was, of course, way before smart-phones. I don’t even think we had Internet yet. It was all analog. We are so lucky today. What really would have helped me out back then was Google Translate, a free online translation service that now is available via App Store and Google Play.
Google Translate has been updated so that now you can hold the phone up to signs and it will tell you what it says in English. It started with only six languages, but now has more than 20. Plus, this visual translator doesn’t need data to work, which is critical for travelers.
You might not be thinking about traveling at the moment — this tends to be the time of year when most people are getting their bearings and hunkering down to work to save money for the spring and summer. But practicing with Google Translate before you hit the shores of a foreign city can help you prepare better to blend in.
CHRISTA WITTMIER IS “SUPERCW” ON ALL SOCIAL MEDIA. FIND HER ON SNAPCHAT, SOUNDCLOUD, TWITTER, VINE AND INSTAGRAM. BY NIGHT, SHE IS KNOWN AS DJ SUPERCW. BY DAY, SHE IS KNOWN AS SENIOR MARKETING DIRECTOR FOR YOUNG’S MARKET COMPANY OF HAWAII. HER NIGHTLIFE BLOG SUPERCITY RUNS EVERY WEDNESDAY ON HONOLULUPULSE.COM