1. Adj.: Describing a person born between 1 Jan. 1946 and 31 Dec. 1964
2. Adj.: Description of a person, place or thing possessing Baby Boomer je ne sais quoi
3. See also, Boomer, Esq.: A Baby Boomer who is also a licensed attorney (See, e.g., About).

Tower of Babel

by Suzanne Fluhr on June 3, 2012 · 16 comments

Tower of Babel by Brueghel

No, not THAT Tower of Babel.  I’m referring to the one here in the lobby of the 3 star Absalon Hotel near the main Copenhagen train station in Denmark.  I am fortunate to be on a 25 day trip as a trailing spouse.  My physician-scientist husband (Steve) was invited to speak at three European conferences between May 19th and June 13th: the first in Dublin, Ireland; the second in Helsinki, Finland; and, the third in London, England.  I managed to convince him that the world would not stop spinning on its axis were we to absent ourselves from our home city of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania for 25 days.  I volunteered myself as trip planner….and here we are.

I realize that my spouse does not have to sing for his supper (as it were) here in Copenhagen, but it’s on the way to Helsinki from Dublin and we have never been here, so it seemed a reasonable stopping off point.  (This was before I realized that prices in Copenhagen are about one-third higher than they are in the United States). I have removed myself from our small hotel room so Steve can violate my “No Television in Hotel Rooms Unless We’re Both Watching It” rule with impunity.  At home, he uses headphones, so he can watch television and I can do whatever in the same space. I highly recommend using technology to preserve marital harmony whenever possible.  It’s cheaper than separate vacations — or worse.  But, I digress….

When I sat myself and my lap top down at a table in the lobby, I was the only person here other than the reception clerks and a group of Spaniards checking in.  However, I was soon joined by a foursome of  Danish Baby Boomers who got themselves a bottle of wine and four glasses and are engaged in a spirited card game that requires multiple decks of cards.  Another table was soon occupied by an older couple, also with a lap top, who asked in heavily accented English if I could help them use the hotel wifi.  How did they know I speak English?  Actually, in Copenhagen it’s a good bet that most people speak passable English.   Indeed, our guidebook warns against trash talking in English about the Danish royal family on public transportation. I’m not sure I even knew Denmark had a royal family to bad mouth in English, but I guess it happens if the guidebook author considered it enough of a cultural transgression to require an admonition against it.

Although my twenty-something sons would be amused that anyone thought to use me as a computer “help desk”, as I helped the older couple “log in”, I realized that their keyboard had Hebrew letters.  This caused me to go out on a limb and ask if they were from Israel.  They seemed amazed that I was able to divine their citizenship.  Actually, I might have thought I was mistaken about their nationality had I not inquired because once they were connected to the web, they commenced a spirited Skype conversation in fluent French with some relatives in Paris.

So, an intoxicated Danish guy just went out and came back with a bottle of  cava (a Spanish sparkling wine) for the Spaniards because  he is overjoyed that they found his cell phone which he thought he had left in a restaurant.  Their common language with the Danish guy is English, but I know from their Spanish conversation while he was gone that they think he’s a little nuts — in a good way.

I’m really glad I speak Spanish.  Monolingualism is soooo yesterday.

How have you fared linguistically in your travels?  

Check out this cool infographic Kaplan International Colleges created for Boomeresque about the benefits of learning languages.

inspire language learningLearn English with Kaplan

{ 16 comments… read them below or add one }

SMA June 4, 2012 at 8:35 am



Just One Boomer June 4, 2012 at 8:46 am

I need comments from people I don’t sleep with!


Laurel H. Tinney June 5, 2012 at 12:50 am

I have found that there are just too many English-speaking people in the world!! I studied both French and Spanish, four years each, in high school, and then Spanish again during my college studies. Being bilingual fascinates me (especially those who speak seven or nine languages — how do they do that?!??). When I was in Quebec a few years ago, I was determined to try having a conversation in French with a local couple in St. Benoit. Thought I was doing alright, and was enjoying the exchange. They, however, definitely noticed that I was stumbling a bit and cared to help me out. Immediately we switched to the good-old American standard — English. Noooooo!!! It was kind of them, but I do wish they had let me stutter and bumble and enjoy speaking my French, as bad as it must have been!! I just love speaking in a different tongue.


Just One Boomer June 5, 2012 at 6:15 am

Thanks for your comment.

It is true that English has become the “lingua franca” (much to the annoyance of the French) due to the omnipresence of American and British TV, films and music. In most countries, it is now required as the first foreign language. Hence, it is difficult to find an educated young European who does not speak at least passable English; and, in Scandinavia and the Netherlands where English TV and movies are mostly not dubbed, but have subtitles, their English is very good—to excellent. However, away from the cities and with older people, (like, my age) it is still possible to find people who do not speak English.


Roz Warren June 5, 2012 at 8:16 pm

Liked this post so much I shared it to my FB page. I happened to read it after enjoying lunch with a new friend from Chile who is effortlessly bilingual. She’s funnier and more articulate in her second language than many folks are in their first! I wish I were fluent in another language.


Just One Boomer June 6, 2012 at 4:23 pm

I’d love to meet your new Chilean friend! Today I had the opportunity to use my Spanish with some Mexicans tourists during a sightseeing cruise of the Helsinki harbor. We ended up exchanging email addresses. They were from Guanajuato, a city we visited in February where I would love to return to stay for awhile to study and speak Spanish. A grammar review couldn’t hurt. (I love the part about traveling where you get to meet Mexicans in Helsinki!)


Jenny June 6, 2012 at 1:34 am

Hey Snoo (aka Suzanne). I think that only family is allowed to use this particular term of endearment when referring to Suzanne.
I am commenting to prove that I have actually finally read your blog.
I regret not keeping up with my German. I fear that I am beyond learning a new language. I am sure that Suzanne is thinking: forget about a different language, I have not yet perfected my English. Suzanne has corrected my grammar and spoken language skills for as long as I can remember. I have to say without much success. I still make the same mistakes that I did last year, 10, 20, 30 years ago.
When I was in high school I would ask Suzanne to help me with my Spanish homework. Initially she actually tried to teach me, but frustration or boredom with her little sister soon prevailed. She would do the homework for me. In the short run this was great. I did quite well until I had to take my final. Needless to say I failed the final. I cannot remember what happened, but I was passed on to the next grade. Hard to believe but that was back when people still had some faith in the public school system.
I guess it is no surprise that I chose to learn German instead, (no competition there.) In truth I was coerced into taking German as they needed one more student to run the class. The teacher was my friends mom.
In case anyone is wondering, I am Suzannes younger sister.


Just One Boomer June 6, 2012 at 7:29 am

Yo, little sister. You need an apostrophe in “Suzanne’s” in your last sentence—and in “friend’s mom”. I guess you can send you’re big sister to Finland, but thanks to the internet, she can still correct your grammar.
P.S.: I didn’t know you failed the Spanish final. Lo siento.


Just One Boomer June 6, 2012 at 4:17 pm

Big sister, correct thyself! Of course, it’s “your” big sister, not “you’re” big sister.


Alexandra June 6, 2012 at 3:08 am

I would encourage all of you interested in bilingualism to go to your nearest community college and volunteer to be a conversation partner for one of the many immigrants struggling to learn English as a second language. Many of my own adult ESL students are totally isolated in their own linguistic ghettos and rarely, if ever, speak English outside of class.


Just One Boomer June 6, 2012 at 7:30 am

Excellent idea. You can also look for a “language buddy” where you agree to meet and both agree to speak their language for one session and English for the next.


Just One Boomer June 7, 2012 at 2:40 pm

Apropos of this post, yesterday on a boat tour of the Helsinki (Finland) bay islands, I heard people speaking Latin American Spanish. I asked where they were from (in Spanish) and it turns out they are from Guanajuato, one of my favorite places we visited in Mexico in February. I told the guy (a passenger on a cruise ship, it turns out) that I hope to return to Guanajuato to study Spanish. So, now I have his and his sister’s email addresses and an invitation to contact them if I get back there.

Today, in my Helsinki wanderings while Steve is at his conference, I came across an international bookstore, Arkadia. I found just the type of book I was looking for, an American’s memoir about his Finnish experiences. The bookstore owner spoke perfect British English. Being a newly minted nosey person (channeling my father perhaps), I asked if he was from Finland. It turns out he was born in England to a French father and a German/Guatamalan mother. He also speaks excellent Spanish and probably several other languages as well. He also told me that the one time he visited “Philadelphia”, he had actually stayed with a German friend in an area outside the city that has Welsh names. Randomly, I lived in there in Bala Cynwyd for 25 years.

My son, Mr., claims to be a “citizen of the world”. Maybe I’m following in his footsteps!


Alice June 12, 2012 at 12:01 am

I just returned from 2 weeks in Paris, and my Girls High French held up better than I expected. I couldn’t speak very well, but I understood a lot. Most people in Paris seemed to be very willing to speak English, especially when I made an attempt (terrible though it was!) to start in French. Wish I was bilingual.


Just One Boomer June 12, 2012 at 12:22 am

First of all, welcome home. I don’t think the French are as chauvenistic about their language as their reputation—or else things have changed as the world has shrunk—again, especially for the younger people. However, I also think it is good global manners for travelers to at least learn how to say “please” and “thank you” in the native language of the country they are visiting. In my experience, it is always appreciated.


Josie October 29, 2012 at 11:43 am

Hi Suzanne,
Love the fun infographic — and yes, I am one of your fans that enjoys your posts about language. Here’s what Conrad and I have agreed to do to improve our Spanish: On a given day, we will speak only Spanish to each other. No exceptions. If it means we fumble around much of the day looking stuff up, then so be it. I’ll let you know how it goes!


Just One Boomer October 29, 2012 at 8:59 pm

You could also find language buddies: You speak English with them for one session and they speak Spanish with you for one session. Pero, buena suerte.


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