This week I have been in a country that uses the language I have been studying for the past few years – for 3 years in undergraduate language courses and this year with a tutor. I am mostly pleased with the progress I’ve made learning the language, though I wish I had more skills, particularly with speaking.
I have found that knowing the language has opened doors (in part owing to surprise that I know some of the language), turned unfriendly people friendly, and of course helped with logistics of travel.
One thing that no amount of language knowledge will overcome is the discomfort that some of the men here have with interacting with me. At times, daily life here is easier if I am quiet and don’t try to spend money directly. I suppose it is a sign of my cultural incomprehension that I cannot really understand why some men here cannot converse with me directly or let me pay for something instead of first handing the money to another man.
The other day during a business transaction with a male employee of a major international corporation in a major city, at each step of the transaction this man handed the relevant item (my passport, my receipt) to my male colleague (also a foreigner in this country), who then handed the items to me. I know enough about the culture to know that his avoidance of direct contact with me was not a sign of respect, but in fact the opposite. This is a situation in which my language skills (such as they are) cannot make up for the fact that I am a mere woman.
Nevertheless, I like being here and working with international colleagues. The research is fascinating and I am willing to endure some unpleasant things to have these experiences.
9 months ago