Talking to myself

When traveling alone, my inner mind buzzes so feverishly with thoughts, words and soliloquies that I often forget myself and think I’m making a racket that everyone can hear.

But no one can hear me, I realize, and I fall back into the hermetic hum. The brain rattles in verbal commotion, synapses chatting away, echoing through cranial canyons. It’s the classic internal monologue, an incontinent loop. (Do I ever get tired listening to myself? And how.)

In countries where I don’t speak the language — most of them — I can go hours, even whole days without uttering a word. Transactions are reduced to semaphore and sign language. There’s lots of pointing. The lingua franca of a candid smile goes a long way.

Talking aloud is good and healthy. Being a mime all day can be suffocating while alone on the road. You need to air out. I’m always relieved to hear my voice stir to sonic life at the end of the day when, say, I order dinner at a nice restaurant and converse with a waiter, or, if lucky, when gabbing with patrons at the local pub.

I blush to admit I’m terrible about learning languages of places I visit. It’s pitiful, really. I’ve never used a phrase book and only bother to learn terms for “hello,” “goodbye,” “please” and “thank you.” (In French and Spanish, I also know “Do you speak English?”)

And that’s always been enough (except with cab drivers, who invariably need written directions). English is so uniformly familiar around the world that I find getting by something of a breeze. 

Still, those basic words — spasiba (“thank you” in Russia); proszę (“please” in Poland); bro! (“hello” in Las Vegas) — are invaluable social tools that make life easier amid the exoticism of a new land. 

But there I am, tramping across jungle villages and cluttered cityscapes, locked in my own head, mostly mute but open to vocal interaction, the human touch. I can tell you there’s nothing like laughing with a local during a far-flung voyage. 

When you’re going solo, getting out of your head takes an effort, as does anything worthwhile. It’s easier than you think. And the rewards are rich. Just watch as the elderly shop lady goes from mirthless money taker, pensive her in her task, to beaming with gratitude all because you simply said xiè xiè (“thank you” in Chinese ) with a smile. It’ll make your day, and possibly hers, too. Nothing is lost in translation. Everything is gained.

2 thoughts on “Talking to myself

  1. Due to vertigo I have not flown in a long time so it has heavily curtailed my travel plans. You wrote about Prague recently in a different post. I visited a friend living there in 1994, did not speak the language and found even simple words and phrases to pick up. Felt so isolated there because I had to rely on her and her now ex husband for translation. It was odd too, she and I blended into crowds. American and British expats told me we looked like: “typical Czechs.” But my friend spoke a horrible broken Czech–whenever she did this the Czechs thought we were German which was not good. Think this is because we both are fair — I’m a mixed Eastern European and Italian descent, my (former) friend mixed of Irish/Swedish. I was begging my friend to be honest–let’s just say we are Americans and pay full price, but she refused. Seeing the sights she said the prices were lower for Czechs and higher for foreigners. So she commanded me to be silent and not speak. Never felt so silenced and trapped. Picked up a little German though because I flew on Lufthansa because my folks did not want me flying on an American airline.

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