I like foreign places (except when they’re foreign)

I made a mistake.

I pitched an aviation article which involves bitching about people not speaking English. Actually, it’s worse than that. This is about people in a foreign country who do speak English … and then there’s me, bitching that their English isn’t good enough.


Obviously, I didn’t realise that that’s what it boiled down to; I have many failings but xenophobia is not one of them. “Foreign” isn’t a bad word, nor something to be feared –foreign just means someplace I haven’t lived yet.

I could still do the article as it stands — just write 1500 words on how annoying it is that the world isn’t set up better for my convenience. Submit the piece, pick up my cash and move onto the next problem, without any real issues.

Other than sleeping at night.

So, back to the drawing board. The subject is problems with flying abroad and the real issue with the piece is that I have plenty to moan about but no solutions. And the biggest problem that I’ve confronted is language, or my lack of comprehension thereof.

If I knew how to fly across France without having to say “say again?” every other transmission, I wouldn’t try to shove that leg onto Cliff all the time.

To a great extent it’s experience — knowing what to expect in a standard conversation. When Cliff flies, he’s predicting the next conversation. The controller could speak Martian and Cliff would guess the question and give the right answer most of the time. None of this “I need to think this over” stuff.

And then there’s the language itself — he speaks French, he understands French, the French accent is on some level comprehensible to him. I have much less issue flying through Spanish airspace, because the rolling r’s and the short i’s and all those markers of a Spanish speaker are known to me and I can “translate” their words into something approaching RP English very quickly.

I can’t do that in French (and nor should I have to! whines the sulky part of my brain, the part of me who doesn’t think there’s anything wrong with this article and doesn’t understand why she’s not allowed to write it anymore) which means I’m not “correcting” the pronunciation to what I’m expecting. I have to parse every sentence twice which doesn’t sound like much but adds up fast, especially when it’s hectic. And then, often I am still not sure what the controller said. It doesn’t help that often their English is limited such that they literally say it again — word for word, unable to rephrase the way a fluent English speaker might.

It happens in reverse too, of course. My American accent in a sky filled with British pilots can be just enough to get those controllers saying “say again?” right back to me. This is exacerbated by my own language difficulties: I’m not fluent in Aviation English and I’m used to relying on the controllers’ fluency to get by. Once I get flustered and start forgetting those set phrases, we are in real trouble.

Say again?

There are other issues flying abroad, of course, most of them are on the ground. And don’t get me started on military airspace. I could tell you stories …

Ah, and so we get to a start point. Sometimes just having someone to bounce things off of makes all the difference.

OK, I’m off to write that article. Thanks for the help.

Category: Excerpts,

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