What did they say?

As we walked down the tree-lined street, a couple crossed our path, and we overheard her say in a slightly raised and exasperated voice, “So, you think it would be better for me to stay with you, even if I’d be miserable?” Our heads snapped around. He appeared much older than she. We waited for his response. But then, she slipped into the driver’s seat of the car and he into the passenger seat, so any further response or discussion was lost to us — not that we would eavesdrop.

We walk a lot and don’t try to eavesdrop on others’ conversations. Really. But in restaurants where the tables are pushed so close together, in planes where passengers are literally right next to you, and on narrow sidewalks, we become unwilling listeners.

Huntington Gardens

Cafe tables are wonderful for people watching and listening….in Funchal, Madeira.

Imagine our happiness on our around-the-world trip as we discovered we were freed in so many countries where we didn’t speak the language. People around us chatted with each other, and our not understanding a word released us from the burden of following their conversations.  Their conversations became background sounds much like birds chirping and distant traffic.

How could we not overhear other's comments...in the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam.

How could we not overhear other’s comments…in the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam.

Opera in the Park - Nelson Huntington Gardens

A picnic before Opera in the Park allowed us to overhear several conversations at the same time….in Nelson, New Zealand.

Danger lay ahead. We started studying Spanish with Duolingo in preparation for our 2016 trip to South America. What happens when we arrive and overhear conversations in Spanish? Will we react as if we are in an endless Duolingo session – trying to translate everything we hear? How will we be able to filter out “background noise” and not be driven crazy by the need to understand everything said around us? After all, we don’t want to get lost in translation.


Will we be caught in an endless cycle of translation? First, Duolingo computer lessons and then all the overhead conversations on the streets of South America.

We think if we were to overhear a woman in South America addressing a man in Spanish, “You think it would be better for me to stay with you, even if I’d be miserable,” we’d be motivated to translate her question into English and ready to continue the translation of the poor fellow’s response. Of course, we’d be motivated purely as an academic exercise to practice our Spanish!


June 2015

About simpletravelourway

Beth and Joe enjoy simple travel.
This entry was posted in Around-the World - 2013-14, Trip Planning and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

9 Responses to What did they say?

  1. Interesting. I found last week in Paris that even though I rarely talk to strangers I was engaged in conversation with anyone who spoke English. It was funny that most of these took place in the bathroom line but I think we have never talked to so many complete strangers.

  2. Betsy says:

    Once again, great writing, dear friends!! Your wry wit shows through once again! Love & miss you both! Betsy

  3. I read once that Maeve Binchy used snippets of conversation she overhead in public places as the inspiration for some of her novels. Maybe eavesdropping isn’t such a bad thing!

  4. Cliff Mail says:

    Being “hard of hearing” releases me from those burdens and many others where people really do wan’t me to hear. I usually get the jist of a coversation by reading the body language, I didn’t hear the conversation but could tell things were not working out well for a couple (and their 4 kids + nanny) boarding our flight to Amsterdam.

  5. Annette Davey says:

    great story! gave me a chuckle.Take care

  6. Don’t worry about a thing. In South America, you’ll be able to understand that kind of conversation just by the hand motions!

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