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The Great Train Of Babel

| Friendly | August 25, 2015

(I live and study in Strasbourg, France and am interning in a lab in Karlsruhe, Germany. I take the public transportation and have a long commute every day, which I use to study, out of personal interest, foreign language books. One evening, halfway on my way back home, I’m working on my Italian book when two middle-aged Spanish tourists sit across from me.)

Spanish Tourist #1: *in Spanish* “Oh, so you speak Italian?”

Me: *in running-on-automatic German* “Well, not yet, but I’m still learning.”

(It dawns on me when they exchange puzzled looks. I laugh.)

Me: *in broken Spanish* “Oops, sorry. I wasn’t thinking. I meant…”

(I hesitate. I don’t want to seem rude but I never learned Spanish formally then and even though I understood them, it’s difficult to work out an answer. The other tourist helps me out in French:)

Spanish Tourist #2: “We speak English, if you want. Very little French and Italian though.”

Me: *relieved, in English* “Oh, great. I mean, I’m sorry, I just need to adjust. I’m French; I spoke German all day long and am learning Italian so I guess I’m a little confused.”

Spanish Tourist #1: *in Spanish* “Understandable. So you’re…” *in French* “…from this region, right? We’re…” *in English* “…sightseeing there. What do you recommend?”

(Cue a discussion about Strasbourg, their hometown Seville, my travels and theirs, and Europe in general in the most ridiculous Babel discussion ever, during which my poor brain provides sentences in complete chaos during 20 minutes.)

Me: *in Spanish* “I like to be…” *in Portuguese* “…working…” *Spanish* “…and traveling…” *Italian* “…in different…” *Spanish* “…places. It’s…” *Italian* “…always…” *English* “…enlightening and I…” *slip back in German, then repeat in French* “…like changing decors every once in a while.”

(By the time the train arrived in Strasbourg and we parted ways, I had both a full-blown migraine and a huge grin across my face. Four years have passed and I still laugh. I still haven’t been to Seville.)

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