Language: Do You Understand?

Posted by Viktoria Michaelis on December 30, 2015 in Immoral Conversations |

It is a fact of life, and one which I have come to accept, that not everyone understands what you are trying to communicate. There are language barriers everywhere, not just between countries and cultures, which are seemingly impossible to overcome. I accept, for example, that the vast majority of people I meet, bordering on all of them, will not be able to understand me if I ‘talk’ to them. Sign language is not something taught in most schools and, aside from by the select few, it is rarely used in polite company.

Sometimes, however, it is clear to me that there are people incapable of understanding the language they have spoken since they uttered their first words. Either that, or they do not wish to understand something; have their set opinion on what a thing is, what a thing means, how a thing works, and nothing is going to convince them otherwise. Take a very simple example: bus times.


Photo Source: KeckoCreative Commons

All methods of public transport have a timetable. It is printed – or available through an app or on the Internet – to tell travelers when their chosen means of transport departs and from where. On railway station platforms these timetables can be massive, covering all eventualities and many destinations. With local and regional buses, the type that we possibly use every single working day, they are simpler: you know which bus, are perhaps even standing at the bus stop waiting, and the list is short and to the point. The bus that you want to take leaves at a certain time.

And here lies, for some, the problem. The bus leaves at a set time. I am constantly coming across frustrated passengers who cannot seem to get to grips with this concept. A woman climbed into the bus I took into Bremen this morning, looked at her watch as she boarded, and complained that the bus was too early. A whole minute too early. She wasn’t the only one boarding the bus, and the driver probably had better things to do – like work: selling tickets and so on – than explain timings to her. And she wouldn’t have listened anyway; she went straight to her seat complaining that the bus was early, again.

Needless to say, the bus left the stop on time. It had arrived early so that passengers could board, so that tickets could be checked and sold, so that people had time to get a seat and make themselves comfortable. What she seems to have thought was that the bus arrived and left at the time on the timetable, something which would have meant a lot of very hard and fast work from the driver since there are no conductors to sell tickets. The bus arrived early at the next stop, and left on time.

I don’t know about you, but when I see that a bus, train or anything else is supposed to depart at a given time, I am there a few minutes before. If it is late, that is another matter entirely, but I want to be there on time too. And, unlike this woman, I understand the difference between Arrive (Anfahrt in German) and depart (Abfahrt), even though German is not my native language.

Perhaps it has nothing to do with language at all,  just with simple commonsense and comprehension. But how do you explain that to someone who is convinced that they are right?

  • Viktoria Michaelis.

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