Written: 16 May
36,000 feet over the Atlantic, midway between Boston and Nova Scotia
Just departed Logan Airport in a nor’easter tempestuous enough to prompt my mother to ask if I ever got nervous flying in such weather. I don’t. In fact, I dig flying in almost any weather, no matter how bumpy (maybe that’s why I got my pilot’s license a few years ago). But this flight has already been different — and we’re just half an hour into it.
I’ve become a pretty jaded traveler over the years (OK, jaded about a lot more than just traveling, but let’s stay on-topic here). But over the course of the past hour or so, I’ve actually giggled a couple of times and I wear the smile of someone who is truly relaxed. Why? Just one step into the plane and I was already hearing that Irish lilt — and being spoken by a female speaker no less, which creates something so subtly intoxicating about the medium, no matter how mundane the message. A few moments later, upon taking my seat, I listened to the French being spoken in the row behind me. And it hit me: for the first time in more than 20 years I was flying to a different continent, to a place where English (or least American English) isn’t the primary language. I was headed to places where the provincialism engendered by having a large ocean on each side of our country is not possible; where different languages and different cultures and different ways of dealing with life are encountered every single moment, whether one likes it or not. And that’s kinda cool, in a humbling sorta way.
INTERRUPTION: Wow! The full moon just came into view between the starboard wing tip and the overcast below. Meanwhile the sun shines brightly off the port side. Can you tell I’m just a wee bit excited?!
Anyway, listening to the various languages being spoken in the terminal and on the plane, and realizing how long gone my abilities with French and German were, reminded me of the old joke:
Q: What do you call someone who speaks more than two languages?
A: A polyglot.
Q: What do you call someone who speaks two languages?
Q: What do you call someone who speaks one language?
A: An American
I’m not knocking my homeland. I’m an American through-and-through. But sometimes our my-way-or-the-highway attitude is just plain embarrassing. And I’m excited about getting out of my comfort zone and into some situations where I can practice a little humility, learn new ways of seeing and expand my horizons just a bit further.