Having come to a country without knowing the language, I find myself observing quite a bit. This past weekend I went on a ski trip to Abetone, a small town in Tuscany. Since it is far from the main city of Florence, it was predominantly Italian speaking. This forced me to observe people in order to find out what was happening, rather than be able to converse about it.
Not being able to speak in order to understand the events was quite nerve-racking when I found myself on top of the ski hill in a blizzard. It started when my friends and I took the gondola up the mountain. What should have been a 15 minute ride turned into 45 minutes of anxiety and fear, as 50 mile per hour winds blew our cable car like a pendulum. Finally, when we reached the summit, we were ushered into the lodge. I had no idea what to do or how we were going to return back down the mountain. So there sat me and four other freaked-out Americans. In order to figure out what to do, I watched the Italians around me.
We sat around a table clearly uneasy, yet the Italians around us sat reclined in their chairs, enjoying drinks. The junior ski team compromised of about 15 five year olds ran around playing tag and laughing. No one seemed to be worried, which allowed me to calm down. I still, however, had no idea what our options were for returning.
After a half an hour, a group of police, whom had been enjoying coffee, as well, stood up and began to speak to the crowd. Everyone began to redress in their ski gear and prepare to leave. I tried to stop someone to ask what was happening, but no one spoke English. So once again, I found myself forced to observe. This is not as enjoyable while stranded on top of a mountain during a blizzard as it would be while sitting in a cafe enjoying a cappuccino. However, being able to intently observe was a skill I needed to get down the mountain.
I later realized that one option was to ski down the run and the second was to be grouped up to ride the gondola back down. I initially wanted to ski down. I could not stand the thought of having to ride in that gondola again and bare the windy conditions; after standing outside observing the crowd, however, I realized that nobody was taking option number one of skiing down. I decided the smartest move was to endure the gondola ride.
The five of us entered the gondola with assistance from the police, and we were accompanied by three Italian men. They, also, did not know a word of English, but their calm expressions helped the five of us stay calm during the ride down the mountain.
The language barrier proved itself during our ski adventure, but I realized that through observation I can learn about situations- even while being snowed in on the summit of a mountain. Of course, it would be much more preferable that next time I am in an emergency I am able to communicate with others and find out the severity of the situation, but this experience taught me that even in a foreign country I can get by.