It might be our favorite souvenir, the memory of conversations we’ve had when traveling abroad. Unleashed from our habits at home and people too familiar with our stories, we can become dashing and dazzling and prancer and vixen. We’ve created these chats with our own special formula, an elixir that’s ours, all ours.
What we actually say seems to be the least of it, especially since we’re talking with people who generally have a limited command of our language and so tend to assume we’re way more interesting than we really are.
Me, I like having conversations with as much as the local language as I can manage, which isn’t that much. Although I can, if forced to, speak a number of languages, I’m notoriously sloppy and I’ll make up a word without hesitating and I’ll dispense with almost all grammar.
In Hungary, I loved saying that my favorite language was half English, half German, half Hungarian. (It sounds way better in Hungarian). It was play. It was fun – at least for me. I got a lot of leeway after they heard my exceptionally good pun in that incredibly hard language. (Well, it was exceptionally good. So there.)
Still, playful conversations depend on a certain appropriateness and a lot of times, that doesn’t exist. For some reason, it’s considered inappropriate to play when you’re talking business – which is a shame, in my opinion. And even if it was appropriate, it’s hard to manage when you’re talking science or philosophical stuff.
Sometimes, though, the conversation that most demands putting the play away is the one when your companion really wants to understand your story, your point, your meaning. That’s when we get to realize how many big words we use. I know, I know – you’ve been collecting syllables for forEVER and now you can’t even use them? It definitely tests our skill at communicating.
We realize how many concepts we believe are just … agreed on. When we use the word ‘tolerance’ we mean tolerance, don’t we? Well, we might. They mean something else.
We realize how much our conversation is littered with idiom and slang and hipsterisms. Your companion might just blink, unfazed, but there’s just as great a likelihood that you’ll catch that slightly ghostly expression of incomprehension. Makes you wonder how long it took them to get back on track. Or if they ever did.
Nothing stalls a conversation more than using language that means nothing. It’s a good idea to tuck in the back of your luggage. Actually, it probably applies at home, too.