Wednesday, March 3, 2010



Anyone who tries to convince you that knowing the local languages is essential for traveling abroad doesn't know what he's talking about. This story is about understanding--thanks to love.

In the early eighties the nearest and cheapest tourist resort for tourists from Czechoslovakia was the sea cost in Romania. Our hiking group of high school friends went there and by chance met we two Slovak boys and two local girls on the beach near Constanta, Romania. The boys spoke only Slovak. Well that´s not entirely accurate. One of our new friends, called Jano, also spoke three French words: good morning, love, and bed. Every day, when these yokels met the girls at the beach, Jano proudly said, “Good morning”. The girls spoke perfect French and were eager to communicate but Jano and his friend paid little attention as they played cards. Thus girls chirped away together all morning in their own language alone and everybody seemed satisfied.

At lunchtime, Jano put away the cards, embraced one of the girls, and said the second word from his French vocabulary “love”. Both girls laughed, embraced out two heroes, and continued to prattle away in Romanian about their everyday concerns. Meanwhile Jano and his friend were rubbing suntan lotion over most of the girls’ bodies. They alternated this activity with periodical trips to the bistro for a beer.

In the early evening, as the four packed up their beach mats, Jano reached for his girl's hand and said, in decisive French, “Bed”. His new girlfriend readily agreed.

But there was a problem. The hate-mongering Giant of the Carpathians, Nicolae Ceaucescu, had decided that Romanian women could have no any relationship with a foreigners. So when Jano went off with his new girlfriend to the center where she had arranged a free room for the evening, he found himself back at the camp in an hour--escorted by the police. Jano, used to Slovak ways of expressing his passion had not been able to restrain himself at a bus from engaging in a steamy embrace. This had aroused the suspicion of the police. In Romania at that time, no one behaved so uninhibitedly. Kissing in public was a sure sign that he was a foreigner.

Jano was very unhappy. We consoled him as much as we could. Jano meanwhile consumed our whole stock of Romanian wine, Mulfatlar, and didn't appear to be bothered by the bitter taste of the heavy red wine. When he finished, he asked for our help as compatriots. Next day, we were to lend him a tent to seal an act of international friendship between the Romanian and Slovak nations. He presented his case, spoken with such dignity, that we agreed.

The next day, Jano used his three French words in the same order. The only difference was that he drank Mulfatlar, remembering how it had comforted him the previous evening. This was not a good idea under the hot sun. In any case, it´s advisable to water down this kind of wine. Jano drank it straight and sailed serenely toward a satsifactory evening in the tent with the girl....

As they left the beach together, he greeted us. Us! Educated, suave men, sitting alone, burning with frustration without charming partners of our own. In fact, his gestures were also a sign that we should stay on the beach as long as possible.

We stayed. Only the cold wind called to us from the darkening sea and beach. We left to warm ourselves with a bottle of Mulfatlar at a nearby terrazzo. Imagine, how surprised we were to find Jano there drinking beer! “Boys, this wretched stuff must be full of saltpeter!” He gestured angrily to our wine glasses. “It's their leader revenge so there can't be any foreign babies”. We really pitied him.

Next day Jano's girlfriend came to see him at the terrazzo buffet, where he must have spent the entire night. She took his hand and dragged him to the beach. Before he could manage his triumvirate of French words, she said two Slovak words she learned the previous evening, “Jano, nepi! – Jano, don't drink!”.

Then she embraced him and pulled him into the sand dunes. Thus began a true understanding between nations -- without words.

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