Sunday, 17 February 2008

Ask the Oldies...

“Look for someone young because they’ll be more likely to speak English”

That seems to be the conventional wisdom when you need help and don’t speak the language of a place. But I disagree. I think it’s better to look for someone old.

Young people generally tend to speak English better than their grandparents, but perfect English is not necessarily what you need most when you’re lost in a strange place.

What you need is somebody who’s willing to try to understand you. How many times have you tried your hardest to pronounce something the way the phrasebook says and people still wave you away saying that they don’t understand? And how many times did those people have grey hair? Not many, if your experience has been anything like mine.

Why are older people more willing to help strangers? Maybe it’s because they’re less concerned about being cool and dismissive in front of their friends or maybe it’s because they themselves have been lost more times and appreciate that a little effort on their part can make a big difference to another person. Or could it be that they’re just happy for the company and a bit of a chat?

With such a broad generalization, it would be impossible to ever know for sure, I guess. What I do know is that, in my experience, asking the oldies has always been a more pleasant and productive experience than dealing with kids, whether alone or in groups. How helpful is it, if the fashionable teenagers or 20-somethings speak English perfectly while dismissing you because you’ve interrupted their SMS conversation or because they’re too cool to help anybody but themselves?

If you’re out travelling and find yourself in a place where you need some help or advice, don’t write off older people as being unable to help before you’ve even given them a chance.

And if you’re not out travelling, how long is it since you phoned your Grandma? Go on, get away from the computer for ten minutes, give her a call and ask her how her day was…even if you think you know the answer to the question already. If you run out of things to talk about, tell her Captain Oddsocks says “Hi, and thanks for the directions!”

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