The Beauty of Not Speaking the Same Language

My adventure in navigating car mechanics in Northern Italy

The Beauty of Not Speaking the Same Language

I recently completed a road trip through Europe. And by road trip I mean driving a rental car from Marseille, France, to Venice, Munich, Amsterdam, Brussels, and Paris, only to return to Marseille, France in two weeks.

This was my first time with a diesel car. The fact that the manual was completely in French was something that I thought I could deal with if required. Even with my limited French, I was fairly confident that I could understand the manual.

When my husband and I were travelling through the beautiful Northern Italy countryside, the part just south of the Austrian border where the vineyards are built up the mountains, an indicator came on requesting AdBlue. We had no idea what was wrong with our rental car that we'd come to love by this point in the trip. Googling our problem was out of the question as cellphone reception in the mountains is sketchy at best. And my limited French and slight panic couldn't make sense of the manual.

We had to stop at the next roadside stop, a busy garage and roadside stop tucked into the mountainside only feet from a tunnel that cut about a kilometre of road through the mountain. I reluctantly made my way into the garage while my husband studied the manual.

The man behind the counter spoke Italian and the nearby mechanic spoke the local dialect of German. I asked for AdBlue and they seemed to know immediately what I needed. I was directed to a 10L bottle of urea. I was a bit confused, but I thanked them and carried the jug out to our car.

My husband was able to discern that yes, we needed urea to offset the emissions from the engine. Unfortunately, we didn't have a funnel. So I returned to the two men.

"Do you have a funnel?" I asked. They looked at me funny, so somewhere in my brain I thought to make a horizontal circle with my hands. The man behind the counter understood and said something in Italian. The mechanic couldn't understand him, so the man made the same gesture I had. The mechanic understood and got me what I needed.

As we drove away I thought about that entire exchange. If we had all spoken the same language, it would have been a seamless transaction of messages and instructions. But because we didn't, myself, the mechanic, and the man behind the counter were forced to solve what I thought was a rather complex mechanical problem in the easiest way possible.

It taught me one thing: you don't have to speak the same language to accomplish something together. It helps ease the process, but we humans are still capable of great things when all we can do is gesture to get our point across.

Isn't our potential to communicate beyond words something to marvel at?

humanity
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