25 June 2012


A big part of traveling is the ability to communicate in different languages. I read in some random study that 70% of communication is body language. I don't know what sample or what population this study was based on, but I would argue that this percentage would change according to a particular culture. For example, you could probably have a really good conversation with an Italian man or woman if you just wave your arms up and down, talk in the language of your choice, but pretend like your singing a little tiny piece of an opera piece and point in different directions. I promise you, one could do such a thing for a while and have a pleasant conversation. Try the same in France, but adding a couple of movements with your mouth back and forth. Try to imagine like your mouth is one of your arms and try to imagine that you are pointing at something. It works! don't believe me?  Let me show you how...

When I came to the U.S for the first time, I was 17 years old. I was a freshman in college and knew absolutely no English whatsoever. I barely passed my SAT with and embarrassing score of 860. I got 650 in math mainly because of equations. I discovered that in math, when it comes to word problems, it is a big deal if you are not 100% if the stupid train is moving west or east. For the English portion, I got whatever points you get for writing your name down (I guess that would be 210).  Point made, my English was terrible.

Despite my preconceived notion that Americans were rude, I was pleasantly surprise with the fact that people actually wanted to talk to me. This unexpected southern hospitality presented a bit of a problem. Then I discovered the most powerful words you can learn in a foreign language. It varies a little bit from language to language, but in English, these words were- "Oh really"… and "No way"
These magic two words did so much for me….how so, you ask?

People would approach me and start a conversation. as soon as I sense a pause in the conversation I would say "OH really!" and then the person would keep talking. After another pause I would add "no way!" and then I would just keep exchanging these two sentences back and forth back and forth. I can't tell you how many times I talked to people for long periods of time and had absolutely no idea what they were saying. This also proved the theory that many people will talk as long as they have an audience. Some conversations turned a bit "bumpy" when the person asked me a question but then I would just take a 50/50 chance and say Yes, sometimes, and No the other. I'll never know what I told people about me, but like I said here before, I was the weird foreign exchange student. I learned to embraced the fact that awkwardness was my new every day life.

Call me geek, but I find communication and languages fascinating. Even though I knew I could "wing it" with the "OH really, "no way" technique, eventually I had to learn new words, expand my vocabulary. One of the first words I learn in the English language… PICKLE. It happened after visiting a McDonald's in Florida and asking for a combo noomber (number) tu (two) and then, having to taste this demonic, circular, green thingy in my mouth. I had to learn what it was. One of my first complete sentences in the English language... Plis (please) combo noomber tu no pickles. 

After my second semester, My English got a lot better, but I had to face a new challenge… Idioms, slang and expressions. I think in the future I will dedicate a whole post to just different expressions from different cultures and countries. I remember in my first job hearing someone telling the story about a friend and hearing that the person "fell off the wagon". I kept thinking, "I hope that lady is ok." 

In my beloved Colombia we have many, many, many expressions but the one you need to remember is "no dar papaya" which means "don't give away your papaya". Literally speaking, it makes absolutely no sense whatsoever, but it means something like "don't let your guard down". History tells us that when the Spaniards came to America, they were exchanging mirrors for gold with the native-Indians (muiscas, mayans,incas, etc) but maybe history has it all wrong. Maybe in Colombia they were exchanging papayas instead?

I have no idea what the answer to this riddle might be, but can you think of more expressions that make absolutely no sense?

Don't be shy, send them my way, I like this kind of stuff.if you don't want to reveal your identity just make sure you "don't give away your papaya"..

till next time… oh really?

I love it when people make an effort to speak a different language. Even if they butcher it.
I took this picture at the train station in Tokyo

Bathroom sign at the Grand Palace in Bangkok

Say What?  I took this while trying to find a doctor in Osaka, Japan


  1. I love the new post and the pics are awesome! Keep writing-I want to keep reading! ~ Amy

  2. Hahaha santi I love reading your blogs.

  3. I loved it! read it all yesterday. Great job, love the way you write.
    Thanks for doing it.

  4. Glad you guys like it and thanks for the encouragement :)