We like to think that we need language to communicate, but I’m sure you’ve witnessed situations that suggest otherwise.

Take this story. I happened to be riding on the same S-Bahn carriage as a family of Serbs. An elderly babushka (thick boots, patched up woolen hoses, a headscarf tied under her chin, I kid you not) was clearly ordering her family around. I didn’t need to speak any Serbo-Croatian to tell she had qualms about the way their daughters were raising their children. Especially the youngest boy, who, oblivious to the commotion, was roaming the carriage up and down.

I heard their arguments, as they worked up to a shouting match.

“He is not your son, stay out of it.”

“The boy has no manners.”

“You had your chance at raising children.”

“See how he behaves.”

In the end, the steely-eyed babushka won, and the boy was promptly retrieved to his mother’s lap. Babushka cast me a sidelong glance, and I hid behind my kindle.

Another story this reminds me of is the time we took my parents to London. You see, neither of them speaks English. And since they were staying in an Airbnb apartment, I went there to help them talk with their host. Here’s the conversation that took place between Flavio and my mother. (Translation of her Polish in parentheses)


“Dzieńdobry.” (Hello)

“Here’s the living room and the kitchen.”

“A łazienka?” (And the bathroom?)

“The bathroom’s this way. I’m afraid it’s a little small.”

“Nie szkodzi. A gdzie znajdziemy ręczniki?” (Doesn’t matter, where do we find the towels?)

“Ah, yes. They’re here.”

And so it went for ten minutes or so. I didn’t get a chance to translate anything, but I didn’t like feeling useless so when Flavio left I explained to my mother that they need to leave the keys in the mailbox outside when they check out.

“No przeciez glupia nie jestem.” (Do you think I’m stupid?)

Makes you wonder how much do we actually need language, doesn’t it?

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