Quote of the day/week/however long

"Act as if what you do makes a difference. It does."
~William James

Friday, June 11, 2010

Joining the Scrum

A great philosopher once said something like, "If it weren't for habit and assumption, I couldn't walk across the room."  What does this mean?  It means that most human behaviors - including conversation - will follow certain very predictable patterns.  Know the pattern - which for conversation is actually fairly universal - and success will follow.  Words?  We don't need no stinkin' words!

Here's an example.  That first out-of-office conversation Madam referred to yesterday happened when she pulled up to a ferry, asked the man obviously in authority, "Where do I buy the ticket?"  He answered something that didn't matter because he was pointing to a nearby building.  "Thank you."  Madam drove to the building, walked it, approached a woman behind a counter and said, "One person and one car, please."  The woman named a sum - incomprehensible, but noticing Madam's hesitation, she displayed the appropriate tickets with the costs clearly imprinted.  Madam paid - in exact change! - thanked the woman, drove back to the boat, and offered the tickets to the man.  He accepted them, tore them, and handed the stubs back.  Madam asked, "Where do I go?"  He answered, "As you are going" and did that pointing thing with a flattened vertical hand.  That seemed to mean "straight ahead" so that is the way Madam drove, trusting that if she was wrong, someone would loudly correct her.  As she parked and got out, she suddenly realized that those people all (all two of them) absolutely believed that she spoke the language.  And so, in fact, she did.

What other way to practice linguistic success?  How about a local bus station?

There might be no scarier place to wander into, but think about it:  what does everyone working there want?  To make sure that you get to your destination.

 So dive in.  Walk with confidence up to a man who is relatively well-dressed and -groomed and has some item of authority - walkie-talkie, clip board, uniform vest, whatever - and no luggage.  Say carefully, "Excuse me.  I want to go to Xburg, please."  Whatever he says next, you say, "I do not have a ticket ('yet' is optional but helpful)."  He will either point toward the place where tickets are purchased, or will say something that includes the words "buy" and "driver," meaning that you pay on board.  Then you either ask, "Which one is the bus to Xburg?" and he'll point, pause, then lead you there if you look puzzled; or else you go to the ticket kiosk/tent/window and repeat, "Excuse me.  I want to go to Xburg, please."  Once you've bought the ticket, check it to see if it tells you where the bus is.  If you can't figure it out, ask the ticket person, "Sorry, but where is the bus?"  If she is busy selling the next ticket, then go back outside and show your ticket to anyone, really anyone, and make that hopeless shrug you're getting used to by now.  He or she will happily lead you to the bus.

Then, as great-grandpa used to say, "Quick as Bob's your uncle" you're on the right bus, headed to where you want to go.  Taxis?  Rental cars?  Embassy vehicles and drivers?  Who needs them?

Well okay.  That's fine for bus tickets.  But how will this help with visa interviews which, even Madam will admit, are just a tad more complex?  By giving you cultural confidence and a knowledge of conversation patterns, and letting you relax enough to recognize words you know when they fly past you.  Major steps on the road to fluency.  Tres bien fait!

1 comment:

Ryan Locke said...

It’s Friday, and that means that the Weekly State Department Blog Roundup is up – and you’re on it!

Here is the link:

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