Look at the following advertisement I saw in Bahrain and take a guess on what you think they are selling.
Still nothing? Give up?
A dental clinic?!? I was surprised too. Could’ve been a million things. Mixed Martial Arts fighting class. Face massage. Bathroom deodorizers. Maybe even a Horror Film Festival. Almost anything!
Well, when language fails, there’s always the perception of the eyes that will allow us insight into the visual world. But what if language failing is a good thing? If you spoke the language of Arabic, those advertisements may not have been very interesting. You would’ve seen the picture, read the line, and moved on. But I don’t know Arabic. Other than Shukran, which means Thank You, or Sabagh al Khayr, ‘Good Morning’, I know diddly. I kind of like that though. Don’t you?
It would definitely make traveling and communicating with populations around the world quite easy, but in my book, that wouldn’t be very fun. Imagine having a conversation with someone from a completely different part of the world and knowing exactly why and what they’re saying. BORRRing.
At the tail end of college I studied abroad in Spain. Some of my funnest stories were when I made a complete linguistic fool out of myself. Once, I mistook the word soup for soap and evidently had a 10-minute conversation about what types of soup I like to use to bathe with. Another time, I told the nice middle-aged couple I was staying with that I was excited to be there and they started laughing. At the time I thought they were just laughing to make me feel comfortable. Turns out I had actually said, in Spanish, that I was sexually aroused to be in their company. Uh-oh!
These Tower of Babel moments make life utterly enjoyable, albeit sometimes in retrospect. They prove our flaws and inadequacies. They allow us to own them, apologize, and move on. The great part is they connect us. The defects that we wish to be rid of are actually one of our most useful connection tools. I have never embarrassed myself, while attempting to communicate through a second or third language, and been met with a rude, “How could you not know that?!?” Because people like that we make mistakes. They make them too.
Even here in Abu Dhabi, when I attempt to make some of the guttural sounds that are needed when speaking Arabic, I fail miserably. But in that, it is uncanny how those moments actually make me more endearing to whom I’m speaking. Its fun using your face and hands to attempt to convey what you mean. During that semester in Spain, I enjoyed making a fool out of myself. And I enjoy making a fool out of myself here in Abu Dhabi. In the grand scheme, we’re really ALL fools, it is only in recognizing our shortcomings that we allow ourselves help, progress, and peace.
So go ahead, tell me what you really thought those advertisements were about…