U.S. airports leave travelers lost without translation

By Monday morning I will have traveled through five airports in eight days. Aside from jet-lag and an extreme appreciation for comfortable waiting room chairs, the first half of my international airport tour has taught me that we here in the states are almost insultingly self-centered. Tourists to our country arrive under the false impression that they will be treated with the same level of respect as tourists to their home nations are afforded.

The Mexican airport is full of attendants fluent in English, Spanish and I have no idea how many other languages. Signs are clearly printed with multiple languages and most importantly, no one yells at you in a version of English only understood by one percent of the English-speaking population.

During my foray through the Mexican airport every airline attendant I spoke with automatically assumed that I spoke English (an easy assumption to make, as I was walking with at least six other obviously non-Hispanic persons, and we were feverously screaming at each other in English). They quickly instruct you where to go, how to get there and give you a lollipop on your way out.

However, the second you get on the plane, the atmosphere changes. The flight crew, based out of Atlanta of course, was rude at best. Only one of the four flight attendants (not stewardesses, as I have been told that the word stewardess is a derogatory term at this point) spoke any Spanish, leaving well over 1/3rd of the passengers stranded.

However, I do not want to accuse the airline flight staff of being linguistically biased. They were equally rude to everyone. One poor girl flying home from a city called Cuernavaca had to relive just about every meal that she had eaten in the past three days. Normally, she would have been the most hated person on the plane but we all felt so bad for the poor girl that we were simply thrilled for her when her friends found her bags and a blanket and started giving her a neck-rub. So engrossed were we in her wellbeing that the entire back of the plane let out an audible sigh of relief when she finally gathered the strength to sit up onto her tray-table.

It was in the midst of this digestive train wreck when the flight attendants sealed their fate as hated. The poor girl’s friends were leaning over her, one of them from the row before her, attempting in vain to nurse her back to health. As it is physically impossible to rub the back of the person behind you while staying in your seat with your seatbelt securely fastened, this stalwart friend had forsaken her safety in her efforts to nurse. This prompted the rudest and most pointed loudspeaker announcement that I have ever heard.

“The seatbelt light is definitely still on, so if everyone could remain in the seats with their belts fastened, we could do our job and help out others on the plane”. Not only was it incomprehensible to half the plane, it basically only served to insult the poor sick girl and her friends.

When we did land in Atlanta, the egocentrism continued. The signs for what to do with your declaration forms were again, only in English. Now, I understand the “English-only” movement, but airports don’t count. In order to convey a positive impression, and more importantly, in order to keep our airports moving smoothly, it helps to give foreign tourists a positive impression and easy experience throughout the airport (not just in the underground train, where thankfully the stops are explained in roughly 200 different languages). Forcing them to stand awkwardly in line without any information does not help achieve that goal.

Of course, never fear, if you can’t read the small signs written in only one language there is still help. Standing behind the signs are six men very willing to yell at you in the same language you don’t speak.

Atlanta is not the only culprit in this game. My time in Miami was also filled with entertaining and incredibly inconvenient twists.

The Miami airport security system is the main idiocy present in the building. The security system is really just a suggestion. If you walk past it to the right and walk quickly it is highly possible that you would be able to breeze past the metal detectors entirely. I of course, being a responsible American citizen who adores standing in lines, did not choose this option. This meant that, being allergic to bees and traveling with an epi-pen, I was stopped roughly every three feet so that I could sign my life away in exchange for carrying my life saving medications back home.

That probably sums up my experience with the international points of entry that are airports. You sign your life away in exchange for the right to read small signs, get sick into a bag, and be yelled at in a language that you most likely don’t speak. I find it amazing that anyone would want to vacation here.