The Barrier

It’s like living in a soundproof hamster ball. There are people talking, yelling, laughing, screaming all around you but you have no idea what they’re saying. There are posters on the walls and you can’t read them. It’s like being 5 again and your parents spelling words over your head.

But I’m 21. And in the Czech Republic.

I’m taking an Intensive Czech Language course right now at Charles University. Believe them when they tell you that Slavic languages are not easy. There are entire sounds that I’ve never even tried to make before and letters that I did not know existed. I’m trying but I’m basically up to basic phrases and words with an accent so heavy it’s probably incomprehensible anyways.

The hardest part of the language barrier is going to the grocery store. There are mountains of bread and millions of things that I don’t recognize. Not only are all the words in Czech but a lot of the packaging is different here too. Like sour cream and coffee creamer come in cups that look like yogurt containers– I don’t even want to talk about how we figured that out. Grocery stores are gigantic mazes of words and packages you don’t recognize and all you want to do is find is the butter!!!

After piling your best guesses of mystery meats, cheeses and various colorful packages into your basket, you make your way up to the checkout to begin the next battle.

Sometimes the cashiers and waiters get frustrated with us. Many don’t speak much English, if any at all and they roll their eyes at my American ignorance. But other times they smile and point and pantomime and I realize how wordless and easy communication can be.

We speak different languages. But in the waves of confusion and miscommunication and frustration, there are flashes of understanding between human beings who cannot even say hello to each other. It’s connection between cultures and lives and continents and I don’t think that we are that different at all. I’m trying to piece together the syllables and perspectives that constantly pull us apart.

While it’s strange to live in a world where everyone is talking around me but I can hear nothing, it’s something like peace. And you realize how much you can say when you can’t really say anything. And how always having something to say might not be that important. And how you can contribute to the music without adding to the chaos.

I think you should go there. Where you can’t understand and all you can do is listen and learn. It can make you feel really far away and close to people all at once. There’s freedom in the noise. And you’ll eventually find the butter.

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