We first discovered Google Translate during our trip to Prague some years ago. It was amazing, and helped out in so many ways from reading menus to asking for directions. Our time in Portugal has also been aided by this helpful app. While most menus provide an English translation, we have had the need for language support in several other areas. Grocery shopping, for example, was an immediate area of challenge. The first day upon arrival in Lisbon we needed groceries. No car? No problem. Grocery stores were within close walking distance from our AirBnB. For the most part, buying meat, cheese, fruits, and vegetables was easy (as long as one could identify what the fruit or veggie was). What wasn’t so easy was knowing what kind of yogurt, oatmeal, milk, or even shampoo and conditioner was before us on the shelves. Open Google Translate, use the camera feature, and we were good to go!
In one instance while dining at a favourite eatery, Basilio, there was a sign hanging on the basket of ginger on the counter by our table. The symbol was a dog sitting, with a line across the picture. We have similar types of signage in Canada to indicate such things as no smoking, or no cell phones. You know the ones. Looking at the placement and context of where the sign was located, we were certain the message was clear. My husband and I had a lengthy discussion around why ginger may be dangerous for dogs, and why a restaurant would need to provide signage to that effect. Being curious, and wanting to share this knowledge with family and friends, I took a picture. It wasn’t until we returned to our apartment that I actually asked Google to translate the words accompanying the picture; ‘Nao sentar’.
Ok, those Portuguese speaking readers will immediately realize our mistake. The ginger basket was simply a vehicle on which the owners could hang the sign until needed to mark a table for incoming customers. For those of you, like us, not familiar with the language, Nao sentar means ‘don’t sit’. To be fair, had we used Google in the restaurant we would have learned this, but would have missed out on a very interesting conversation about the perils of ginger and our canine friends.
We recently had incident where we wished Google Translate could have helped. In preparing to leave Portugal to move to our new European location in Spain, we had to pick up a vehicle in Faro. After a rather frustrating experience (too long to get into here), we were upgraded to a Mercedes van (a little extreme for the two of us). However, it provides comfort, and plenty of room for us, our luggage, and other supplies we need to take along. We should have known we were in trouble when the customer service people told us the vehicle was from Spain, having been dropped off by one way travellers.
My husband started the vehicle, and successfully drove out of the car lot, figured out where the gear changer was located, and headed back to Albufeira. Everything was good, until he touched something, causing the car to get stuck in first gear! Finding a place to pull over, he pushed, tapped, and pulled on every available lever and button (of which there were many). It began to feel like our youngest grand daughter pushing buttons, pulling levers, and turning wheels to make things happen on her Fisher Price car! To be fair, the car was trying to tell us what to do by way of information showing up on the control panel. The trouble was, all instructions were in Spanish! There is nothing in the basic Spanish lessons we are both taking that equipped us to know what should be done to get us out of this predicament, nor could our precious app get close enough to provide any kind of translation. Finally, after much random button and lever maneuvering, the gear changer was released…although my husband had no idea which was the magic move.
Unsure of which road to take to get us home, rather than using my phone I decided to use the car GPS. You can guess what happened…Spanish! AND GPS gadgets that more resembled a gaming controller than a car GPS! For sanity sake, I used my phone. 🤷♀️
Knowing we only spoke English, why no-one at the rental place thought to introduce us to the foreign machine we had just rented remains a mystery. However, we did stop at one of their drop off locations once we made it back to Albufeira, where one of their service agents kindly switched the system to English, linked my phone via bluetooth, and introduced us to the various bells and whistles possessed by the van. We breathed a sigh of relief.
My husband and I have both been driving for more years than I choose to mention. We have driven all kinds and sizes of cars, in various countries, but have never found ourselves in this kind of predicament. It’s interesting how inadequate and foolish you can feel, trying to do something you have done for years, but being completed lost and overwhelmed because what was once familiar, changed. I think many leaders are feeling like this. They have been leading teams, creating processes, fostering cultures successfully throughout their careers, but now find they have to re-think and re-learn everything. They knew how to be effective, but what was familiar has now changed. Learning how to lead and support their people in the fast changing contexts in which they find themselves can be like operating in an unfamiliar language.
A word of advice? Seek out people who know this new environment, this exciting, yet overwhelming working environment, and ask for help. Believe me, you will learn to enjoy the ride once you do.