You might expect that in my travels, I would occasionally run into something of a language barrier. But it just isn’t so. In the travel industry, English has become the required language for almost all workers. In the developing world, people go to great lengths to learn English. It is easier to get and keep a good paying job in a hotel if you have any degree of skill in English. Unlike in our part of the world, customer service jobs dealing with tourist are a prize reserved for only a very few. With a chance to hard currency in tips, these are some of the best paying jobs around.
This fact hit me in the face somewhat literally on a recent trip to Thailand. I was standing at the gate entrance to our hotel when a sudden gust of wind took up some paperwork from the guardhouse. One of the pieces plastered itself to my face. The gust died almost as suddenly as it came up and I was left holding the piece of paper while the guard ran around frantically trying to collect the rest of it.
I was curious about what could be so important to him and so I looked at the paper I already had in hand. It looked a penmanship exercise. I had his Capital K’s. I took my piece over to his guardhouse and sure enough he had a children’s alphabet book complete with A for Apple and B for Bear. He had apparently been practicing each letter of the alphabet. I knew that he spoke a broken bit of English because I had asked him about the local bus system the day before.
I pointed to his schoolbook and said, "You learn?"
He shook his head yes and said, "learn read write; then better job."
"Ah, good for you" I said, and then handed him his Capital K.
He smiled and thanked me as though I had given him the greatest gift in the world.