In being in countries where we didn’t speak the language for the first time, there is a progression for learning how to get around.
First, we relied on someone else. That person was Mary. In Poland, this worked very well. We didn’t have to do anything, really, except answer her questions and convince her that we truly didn’t want fourth helpings. In Slovakia, however, that safety net grew some holes.
The moment we realized this was probably while we were trying to figure out how to get to the castle that was right in front of us. Like really, actually right in front of us propped up on a hill. The problem, we quickly realized, was that no road seemed to lead to it.
On realizing that our first attempt to drive up the mountain brought us to the wrong side, we pulled over into a parking lot with a nice-looking lady sitting at a desk.
Mary approached the lady and asked what I assumed to be how to get to the castle in front of us. The lady seemed to understand Mary’s Polish, or else at least her gestures toward the castle, and explained how to get there in Slovakian and in great detail, gesturing toward the parking lot, curving her hand left and the right, and then drawing a square in the air. All the while, Mary nodded and said, “Dobrze” (“Ok”). After about a minute of directions, Mary thanked her in Polish and walked back towards us and the car, looking calm and knowing.
Ah, what a relief it was to be with someone that could talk to the locals! I readied myself to hear what we did wrong. We’d be there in no time.
“Ok,” she said as we all ducked our heads back into the car. She looked at Kevin and smiled, but didn’t say anything else.
“Well?” Kevin asked, “What did she say?” Mary looked confused.
She threw up her hands, “I don’t know, Kevin.” She said it as if this were obvious.
I burst out laughing. Now it was Kevin’s turn to look confused.
“I don’t know Kevin, she spoke Slovakian. I don’t understand Slovakian.” I supposed this made sense, but she had been so convincing. So many head nods. So many serious, knowing looks.
“But you were nodding and saying, ‘dobrze’ and everything!”
“Yes, Kevin, but it was Slovakian. It’s too hard to understand. I can understand a little but not much.”
“But why didn’t you tell her that?”
Mary shrugged, “She was nice so I tried. But I don’t know what she said and she can’t speak Polish so there was no point to ask again.”
At this point, we were all laughing.
“Well.” Kevin put his hands back on the steering wheel.
“Well.” I agreed. Kevin turned on the car.
“I guess we just try again?”
“Yes,” Mary said. And she added, “She said something about a sign. There is a sign I think.”
We pulled out of the parking lot and waved thanks to the nice lady, who had returned to her desk and was smiling back at us.