The gift of world travel


Tear down the wall

Once, while eating supper at a restaurant in Germany, I over-heard an American visitor complain the menu was in German only: she wanted to see it in English.

How ironic to discover that nowadays menus in Europe often boast several languages, including English.

While I detested the woman’s tiny worldview, modern globalization demands a multiplicity of views and languages.

Learning foreign languages expands your perspective: it’s a wonderful mental and cultural exercise. 

But today English is the common parlance: the Lingua Franca of the 21st Century.

English abounds.

When I grew up in Europe you dared not speak English to a French waiter in Paris.

Speaking English was déclassé.

Today the servers speak fluent English and insist you put away your phrase book or translating app: you don’t need it.

Still: I insist they speak to me in French.

They just roll their eyes.

I want to spend a few minutes in another world, and language embodies that world.

For example, in English we claim, “we are bored.”

But in French, “we bore ourselves.”

Stripping conversations to their English bones means we all end up thinking like Yanks. “I’m bored.”

I like the French reflexiveness: you can only bore yourself.

A common language certainly bring us together, and helps us recognize our similarities.

And recognizing those similarities bolsters a common humanity: we are all here together.

We occupy a common space, so tear down those walls.

While I cherish the differences across cultures and languages, and ask help polishing my French, German, Dutch and Turkish, I want to honor our commonalities while remembering our distinctive customs.

Rather than build walls–as as been suggested of late–let us instead welcome the dissonance that comes on the heels of realizing we are not all the same.

And that’s marvelous indeed.


Image from


About Cynthia Coleman Emery

Professor and researcher at Portland State University who studies science communication, particularly issues that impact American Indians. Dr. Coleman is an enrolled citizen of the Osage Nation.
This entry was posted in american indian, communication, science communication and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to The gift of world travel

  1. Maria DePriest says:

    Love this post, Cynthia. Other languages give us another way to see. xo

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Me, too! Although I am frightfully poor at speaking languages other than English, I love trying. I also am deeply enamored of trying to understand menus in non-English. This has resulted in some memorable moments…… I firmly believe that travel is a door to understanding others.


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