The last time I traveled to Italy and Germany, I was in my early 20s and could get away with choppy attempts at asking how to get to the train station. Now, it feels like I should be fluent in everything by virtue of my age and life experience.
The truth is that I am not fluent in everything. I’m not even fluent in most things.
It feels gross to need to ask someone in her own country if she speaks English so that I can buy dinner. Ugh.
(Note: If only My Dream Super Power – Universal Polyglotism – was real.)
Again: it feels gross to need for the locals to speak my language so that I can function in a land where I am a stranger and guest. Who do I think I am?
The conference that brings me to Europe this time will be an All-English-Speaking event. There will be guests from all over the world talking about the ordination of women and everyone will be multi-lingual – except for me and any other English Only Speakers who have been invited. When we expect people to taper their daily living to meet our own needs, it smacks of entitlement and arrogance. But on this trip, there are English speakers everywhere: in hotels, in restaurants, in shops, and even in the WCs. Women who make very little money cleaning public toilets have more linguistic talents than I will ever have.
Get that woman a job with an international bank.
How is it that we expect people to speak our language but we feel no inclination to learn theirs? And in their own nation?
People seem to appreciate it when I try. While in Germany, I answered a question in Italian which is super impressive, except that I’m in Germany. I find my high school Spanish kicking in, but again – I’m in Germany. Someone actually answered me in Spanish today and then I had to say that I can’t even finish the conversation in what is probably her third language.
This is an issue of humility and grace. Maybe we in the United States would all be speaking German now if we had lost World War II. Maybe if computer languages had not been set in English, we’d be at a disadvantage. Maybe the future will demand that everyone speak Mandarin. Or Arabic.
The Church could learn so much from this issue. Do we expect everyone to speak “Church”? Surely we do not, if we are serious about welcoming new people to Christianity.
Do we expect everyone to cater to our own language requirements? Or do we love them enough to want to try connecting on their terms?
As you read this, I will be meeting new friends for whom my way of being the Church is not in any way like theirs. Will I work as hard as they are working to connect? I hope so.
And when I get home, I’m starting Italian lessons. Seriously. I’m considering a move to Lake Como. Or Positano.