I have been to quite a few countries but it’s my first time in a predominantly French speaking European city and I will be spending quite some time here.
On this fateful Saturday morning; I had decided that I was going to do my laundry. I got up early, did all the other things I had to do because I had piled up quite a lot of dirty clothes. At 10am, I went downstairs to the laundry room, opened the door and there, stood 2 machines “looking at me”. I could tell that they were a washing machine and a dryer. The models were different from the ones I was used to. To complicate the matter, there were complex connections of hoses of water and electric wires connected to these machines. To make matters worse, there was no one around to ask.
Initially, I assured myself that I can gently follow the directions, after all, most washing machines use the same techniques. As I moved closer, I saw lots of buttons and all labelled in French. I had no clue what to press. The only thing that looked like English was “start” button. Where do I open the water; what about the detergent; how do I press “wash” or “spin”; no clue. I looked at the manual; French.
Okay, time for plan B. The number of the “concierge” was pasted on the wall; so, I called. The phone rang for some minutes and the gentleman picked it and said “Bonjour”; “Good morning” I replied; “do you speak English” I asked. Okay, to put it into perspective, since I have been here, I have asked that question like “a million times”. Luckily, most people will say they can speak a little English and most times, it’s just enough, though it sounds like the Nigerian “pidgin English”. At least, they are better than me (A little digression; the day before, a taxi lady dropped me off and she was pleasant while we rode; so, at my stop, I wanted to say “nice meeting you”. In my head, I knew I probably should say “Enchante” but my heart confused me that “Enchante” might mean “I love you”. I didn’t want trouble, so I kept my mouth shut).
I waited a second for the response of the “concierge”, hoping and praying that he says he speaks “a little” English. “No”, the gentleman said with a tone you could imagine that the word “No” is probably the only thing he understood in English. Now, the battle. I needed help and had to find a way to explain what I wanted to this gentleman.
“Clothes…dirty…laundry…machine…operate…I don’t know how” I said to the guy, picking the words one by one. I kept hearing “wee…wee…wee” as I mentioned the words one by one. I had no clue what the gentleman was saying. Again, I tried it in another way;” please, I need help with the washing machine in the laundry and there is no one around to help me” I said. After listening to me, the concierge made a lengthy statement in French.
I could tell he was worried about me but he had no clue what I wanted. After a period of back and forth, he went to look for a lady that spoke “very little English” and handed over the phone to her. The conversation between the lady and myself was also interesting. Hmmm, after few minutes of talking to each other, I thought we understood each other but oh boy, I was wrong.
As I went back to my apartment, the first word that came to my mind was “Tower of Babel”. Imagine the level of confusion and frustration humans must have experienced at the Tower of Babel. The various tongues in the world are some of the many wonders of God’s creation. I wonder how the theory of “Evolution” will explain how we got to have so many languages in the world (just wondering). You don’t even have to come to Europe to have a “tower of babel” experience; there are plenty of stories within Nigeria. Over 250 languages, whoa! It’s one of the beauty of creation; we must learn to honour and respect other people’s languages and traditions. It’s not exactly my first time of not being able to communicate with others from different area; but this one made me reflect on the beauty of creation.