Before our plane landed in Reykjavik, the first stop on our 15-country, 4-continent adventure, I had downloaded language packs for each country we had planned on visiting via Google Translate.
As we sat on the plane, with about 20 minutes before landing, I pulled up the app and immediately looked up a translation for one phrase, which I consider the most important universal symbol of kindness and connection: THANK YOU.
Fortunately, Icelandic was easy, “Takk!” Learning it didn’t take much practice, as saying it is like the “tock” in “tick tock.” Even more fortunately, it’s the same in Norwegian, which was our second stop.
During our three days in Iceland and one day in Norway, I must have said thank you at least once to each native resident we interacted with, and with great certainty, I can report that 100% of the time, it put a smile on the face of the person receiving the phrase.
Before we arrived in Poland, however, I knew I had a challenge in front of me. My tongue didn’t want to cooperate with the polish language in general, let alone the word for “thanks.”
Turns out, it’s pronounced like “Jane-kwee-ay” with an extended pronunciation of the J part.
And it only took about fifteen Polish folks to remind me before it clicked.
However, as with Iceland, each and every time I said it, wrong or not, people lit up. In fact, I think they lit up TWICE as bright in Poland, probably because the language IS difficult, which likely keeps a lot of tourists from attempting to learn.
If I’m being honest here, that little, effortless touch of kindness has resulted in more smiles than I’ve seen in a long time – genuine smiles, like the kind we give others when they’ve made us feel important.
Dale Carnegie once said that the sweetest sound in any language is the sound of ones own name, but I might beg to differ.
I think the sweetest sound is that of a foreigner making a sincere effort to show residents of a culture that they matter enough to learn how to express kindness in their own language.
From here on out, I’m making it my goal to spread as much kindness as possible in any language I can.