Jerusalem — 19 March, 2015
I tell a man that I don’t speak any English, then receive instant karma when he sits next to me on the bus and we hit a traffic jam.
Since salesmen everywhere speak English and my skin tone instantly gives me away as a foreigner, cab drivers, tour guides, restauranteurs, and hotel owners always swarm me as soon as I step outside. They are quite pushy and it is hard to walk anywhere or talk to friends when men step in your path and demand to know every detail of your plans. Ignoring them doesn’t work and instead just makes their questions louder.
The obvious solution is to pretend not to understand any English.
This worked well in South America. I turned German when need be and explored in peace: I looked German and no one spoke any. The Middle East has been a bit more difficult as German speakers are more common. I adapted and started replying to salesmen with only confused looks and Spanish phrases. It worked really well and I enjoyed watching the frustration grow on their faces as their usual sales pitches didn’t land.
The problem began in Jerusalem when I was about to board a bus into Bethlehem. A man walked up to me and asked where I was going, to which I replied with a blank stare and a slow mmm I no speak much Inglés, hablas Español? He walked away. Ten minutes later, he grabbed the empty seat next to me on the bus. We talked for the next hour through a traffic jam and border crossing, him in fluent English, me in broken English with a stutter and cartoon accent. He was fascinating. We talked about the conflict in Gaza, his training to become a podiatrist, my travels, and the recent Israeli elections. You know, the type of stuff you usually talk about when you barely understand a language. It was very dispiriting as he was quite genuine. I felt bad for lying to him but was determined to stick this thing out to the bitter end.
So stick it out to the bitter end I did. An hour later, I stepped off the bus and greeted the dozens of people yelling combinations of I will take you to Banksy! I give you tour of Christ’s manger! Come with me! with a grin and Desculpa, no speakie Inglés.
Their frustration restored my spirit.