From a practical purpose, of course, being able to ask rudimentary questions as well as read the occasional sign helps one get from point A to point B. Additionally, the culture of a land and its peoples are wrapped up and bound by its dialects. Know a bit of a language and you are closer (if even marginally) to understanding a people.
You also better represent your own country (remember: we are all ambassadors) if you don’t travel with the hubris of the colonizers. Did the 19th century British take the time to learn even a few of the Indian tongues once they conquered that sub-continent? Did the French, Germans, Portuguese, Italians and Flemish bother with the various African dialects when they part-and-parceled that diverse and sprawling land? Do we Americans – the current capitalist-consumer winners of the economic wars of the last 50 years – do we make the effort to understand a modicum of where we travel? Some do, of course, but most do not.
There is another upside to being able to communicate with the locals. One not centered on us. One that did not occur to me until my flight back from Iceland.
Icelandic – despite being an Indo-European language – is a difficult language to learn, much less master. This was our second trip to the far northern volcanic island and admittedly six years ago I did a much better job of studying up on the language before our departure, despite this time buying a new book and CD learning tool (more on this in another post). So, for this journey, I was equipped with just a few phrases.
A simple takk fyrir – thank you – was one of them.
Seeing the momentary joy accompanied by a smile flick across the face of a waitress, an immigrations officer, the hotel receptionist, as I said takk fyrir was worth the small price to learn it.
It’s an admission price we can all afford.
Rainy Scenes Seen Around Reykjavík...