Language Barriers

We landed in Budapest, Hungary a few days ago.  After a day of flights and airplane food, the seven of us set out to find something substantial to eat, and our search brought us to a Greek resturant in a mall.  Only one obstacle stood between me and a gyro: none of us knew a word in Hungarian.

I stepped up to the counter and said hello.  The woman behind the counter gave me a confused look and said something back, but neither of us understood one another.  So, doing the only thing I could think to do, I resorted to pointing and nodding and holding up foreign money, hoping it would be enough for whatever she decided to give me.

I think about how I react when someone who knows very little English comes to me for help at my job.  I imagine a man walking into the electronics department at Sam’s wanting a laptop.  He is confused, sees me in my green vest, and recognizes that I am there to help.  Coming to me, I greet him with a smile, to which he replies with a poorly pronounced, “Good morning.”  He starts pointing toward the computers saying, “I would like laptop.  Help, please?”  I come over and after a few minutes realize that we are not making much of a dent in the language barrier.  He has questions I barely understand, and he does not seem happy with any of my answers.

I don’t imagine I would have much patience for this man.  My experience in Hungary convicts me for my laziness and my hypocracy.  Coming to Hungary, I expect people to help me, a stranger and a foreigner, even though I have made little effort to learn their language.  The woman at the resturant was gracious and did her best to get me some food.  But though the man from Sam’s has at least learned a little of my language, I am still impatient because he is a burden to me.  He makes my day difficult.  He is probably someone I will complain about with coworkers when I go on my break.

Experiences like these show me how prone I am to gravitate away from grace and compassion.


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