Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Is it Multi-culturalism or is it Princess?

Multi-culturalism has it good points, I suppose, like providing a variety of foods, amusing us with cultural oddities, and a cause to help make liberals and elitists feel superior.  But multi-culturalism is not all it’s cracked up to be. This revelation became apparent during a recent cruise on the Princess line – my first ever.

Both the crew and the passengers were comprised of people from several dozen nations and languages. My experience within this milieu revealed to me how wars are started – the simple matter of failure to communicate.

The first hint came when my wife left the cafeteria dinner table for the lady’s room, with explicit instructions for me to protect the remains of her cherished dessert. Twenty seven seconds after she left, a waitress came over and as she reached for the half-full dessert plate, in a barely intelligible tongue asked if we were done – I guess. I held out the palm of my hand and spoke “no” while she began to pull the plate away. In a slightly louder tone I repeated “no”, further outstretching my “no” hand signal learned from being a safety patrol in elementary school. As she inched the plate further from the table, my next “no” was raised several more decibels. I guess that final effort startled her and she got the message.

We experienced a lovely guide on a tour bus in Barcelona. As she spoke, every other comment ended with a “yes” or “no.” “You see that monument over there, yes?” “That is one of the finest examples of sculpture in the 17th century, no?” Does “yes” mean “no” and “no” mean “yes?” I’m not sure, but I am glad I didn’t try to answer because I wouldn’t know whether to agree or disagree with her.

The Euro-exchange vending machine. Oh yes, the money grabber from hell. It made the slot machines seem like Mother Teresa by comparison. There was not one shred of verbiage on that piece of hardware that hinted at the cost of conversion. At least with attempted Christian conversions they explain you need to give your life. This machine was mute. After painfully discovering that we put many more dollars in it than we needed to, I felt a puff of smoke escaping from my ears as my feet propelled me to the Purser’s desk. I don’t recommend trying to explain a complex problem concerning the operation of a confusing mechanical device to someone who considers your language as foreign as you do theirs. Remember the “yes”/ “no” problem with the tour guide? Apply it to this scenario: Two ships passing in the night.

A few days later when I resolved to resolve the Euro problem, I encountered a breath of fresh air – a freshly minted Purser, an American girl on the job less than a month. Yes! Problem resolved, painlessly. Communication is a wonderful thing, as is uni-culturalism.

I’m not quite sure what problem God had with Babylon, but I can attest that having a common language and intelligible means of communication is a beautiful thing. Where can I sign an “English is our official language” petition?

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