Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Lost in translation

Since I'm on this travel theme, I thought I might share another story about observations I've made while traveling. Airports are the most amazing places in the world to people watch. If you travel often enough, and you make it your 'business' to people watch, you are bound to become quite the expert at interpreting facial expressions. My all-time favorite of course, is the perplexed look. This is generally seen on the faces of people who are clearly in a country where they don't read or speak the language. While English is a universal language, in some airports around the globe many of the directional signs are in 'gibberish' (or they might as well be for all the good they do the traveler looking for directions to catch a connecting flight).


Take for instance one time I was in Heathrow Airport in London. I noticed what appeared to be a gentleman of eastern European stock attempting to get directions from an equally perplexed, uniformed custodian. Evidently, in eastern Europe any kind of uniform screams of authority, and so this confused traveler thought that the uniform implied knowledge. I suspect that, like a friendly smile attracts other friendly smiles, so the perplexed look says "hey, your expression looks just like mine so you must be able to help me." Otherwise why else would you go up to someone who looks just as confused as you, to ask for help?

Anyway, I pretended to be totally disinterested, while I strained as hard as I could to hear the conversation. Since it was taking place in haltingly broken english and sign language, as near as I could deduce, the traveler needed to transfer between terminals in order to catch a connecting flight that was leaving in an hour. Even though I understood perfectly well what the custodian was saying (he spoke English), his hand gestures and Midlands accent would have been confusing to the most well versed person, if you weren't familiar with the accent. I heard him direct the passenger to the trains which would connect between terminals, explaining that he had quite a ways to go. I continued on my way and by the time I had retrieved my luggage and headed to the train station to catch the Picadilly line to central London, I noticed the 'perplexed' passenger standing on the platform apparently waiting to catch the same train.

My heart went out to him and I tried as best as I could to explain that this train would take him to London and not to the terminal he was trying to get to. I have no idea if he understood me, or for that matter, if he ever made it to his flight on time. Sometimes, life seems to work the same way. Everything around me seems so confusing and uncertain, and I go to the wrong source for directions. I look for the nearest, just as 'perplexed' person to ask for help and guidance. If only this traveler had the foresight to find an information desk he would almost certainly have been helped. By the same token, life offers us only one authoritative source of helpful information, and if we turn to Him we are certain to find our way through the maze of confusion that has us lost in translation.

4 comments:

Hope said...

If only, Joseph, if only... I guess that's why Jesus left it up to us to be the information booth to weary travellers who are lost and searching for their connections.

Joseph said...

Hope,
That's pretty profound. I have a suggestion to make. Would you be willing to write a blog tomorrow picking up on the weary traveler theme? I'd love to be able to refer people to it from my blog as I think it would be a great adendum to my post.

joey said...

Yes, but it's not enough to be the "information desk" waiting for people to come to us. We need to be the "tour directors" out in the middle of it all holding up the signs looking for the lost ones.
Great theme Joseph. I smell a sermon ;0)

Joseph said...

Joey,
Great thoughts. I would be thrilled if we would even be the "info desk" since that alone seems difficult for many of us. The idea of being the tour director holding up signs for weary traveler's in a language they can understand would be utterly amazing. Who knows, may be there is a sermon hidden in there somewhere? ;)