I have always considered myself an open and welcome person who treated everyone fairly. Other people that I knew would often express views that people, who lived in the United States, whether legally or not, should learn how to speak “our” language. While I tended to agree with them I never gave it much thought, until I found myself in a foreign country, and unable to speak the language. It was there that I learned, not only how it felt to not be able to communicate easily, but to be more tolerant of other people’s non-native speaking.
I have always loved to travel with family and friends, and there was no better time than when I was living and working in Serbia. While I worked with people from many nationalities most, if not all, spoke the English language. I took this for granted, and while I made some attempts to learn new languages, I did not try too hard. After a particularly stressful month of work I felt the need to get away from it all, to rest and relax, and to broaden my perspective of the world. I made reservations for six solo days of scuba diving in Croatia. I was excited, nervous, even a little scared of traveling alone. I told myself that I’m 36 years old, have two kids, and lived in another country, so I held my head high, bid my friends farewell and took off.
Upon arrival in Croatia I picked up my rental car at the airport in Zagreb. I got on the A1 motorway and pointed the Fiat Punta south towards the small fishing village of Rocogniza. I arrived there late in the afternoon and promptly found the dive shop that had arranged all my accommodations. I settled in and then set off into the village to explore and buy food to prepare for dinner.
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The sun was shining and felt warm as I parked my car started walking towards the village. I traveled past centuries old houses, a large stone Orthodox Christian church, and into the village. Once in the village I saw the bustle of people coming to and from the outdoor market and the fisher men peddling their catches along the dock. There were people of all ages in the town centre, young kids playing, and elderly people sitting at the café’s talking.
I walked through the market and saw a very old lady selling fresh fruits and vegetables. I stopped at her cart and she was very warm, with bright eyes, a big smile on her face, and arms opened as if she were going to hug those around her. I said hello to the old lady who only nodded and I realized that she did not speak English. Even though there was a language barrier I was able to purchase the fresh fruit and vegetables that I would need for the next few days. I then walked to the docks and again I was greeted with a warm welcome by the fishermen. I bought several mackerel, red mullet, and bukva, more that I needed, thanked the fishermen and bid them farewell.
After making my purchases I stopped at a small café to have a coffee. The waiter Mario, whose brother was always living and working in Kosovo, spoke almost perfect English. I sat at that café for several hours talking with Mario. Mario told me about the people of his village, how they had survived through the war, and how the Croatian people generally loved having foreigners visit their great land. Although I hated for our talk to end, I had to bid Mario farewell, and head out before dark.
As I left the village I turned back and looked towards the small fishing village that I had just visited. I thought about the warm and welcoming reception that I had received and that I would always remember the people that I had met. I also thought about those people who come to the United States to either visit or in search of a better life for the families. I vowed to myself that I would learn some of the local language while traveling in other countries. This experience also changed the way that I would interact with people who were in my own country and did not know how to speak what we consider “our” language.
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