Johnny Arrived in Lome and He Does Not Speak a Word of French

It is intriguing to watch an American, who does not speak French in Lome Togo.

It has only taken one day walking around with Johnny, a normal American, now hanging out in Lome, Togo for 10 days to know that I have “left the West behind.” The Beatles very astutely sang these words in the song, “Back in the USSR.” But, nothing is more illuminating than to be with a Western Culture American man walking around in the city of Lome, Togo West Africa, a French speaking country to know, I am not very American anymore, I have indeed left the west behind, this is proven to me.

Lome Togo Hotel Map

Johnny is a good guy, traveled a lot, but does not speak any foreign languages. I was tempted to say, he refuses to speak French, but that is not true, he really just does not care to speak French, or even Spanish, and he lives in Sosua, Dominican Republic. He has the rather normal Americanism that expects other cultures to adapt, and in most ways, that is what they do, they adapt to Americans abroad, but then again, they want our money, they enable Americans to remain Americans.

Please note, I do realize this Americanism makes other cultures very angry, but this is life, we must accept that life is life, we cannot change people, places or things, and we need to accept the world to be happy.

It is good fun for me to watch, because I do not get involved, I accept that most Americans do not try to meet the locals half way, they are Americans, behaving American, it is foolish to expect them to act different.

Often Europeans will say to me,
“Andy, you act American.”
And, I reply.
“Yes, you are correct, I am American, do you want me to pretend to be something else for you?”

Johnny speaks in full on colloquial English, with all the nuances, stops, starts, English that only another American can understand easily. He is from Ohio, and I am from Indiana, so we speak the same culture.

Surprisingly to me, the locals, and even a couple of French expats here made great attempts to try to understand, and reply in English. If two people want to communicate, they always can, they only people fail to communicate is when the refuse to try.

Johnny was great, he sparked up a conversation at the 50 / 50 yesterday with two true blue Frenchies, two guys that are the mirror image of Johnny, but French. They spoke 10 words of English, and he spoke zero words of French, and both of them sort of waddled their way through the conversation.

Luckily, I was the other side of Johnny, and not in the middle, so I sat on the side, and did not speak a word of French. By accepting the situation, not taking responsibility to fix or help the conversation it was simple for me. What “is, is,” no more, no less, not my job to repair Americanism. And, I do not repair French culture, they are the same as Americans when they travel, do not want to culturally cross over. I suppose it would be good to introduce Johnny to some Germans here in Lome, they work both sides of the cultures, the same as I do, they speak French, English, German, they are polyglots, the same as me.

My first day goals were accomplished:

1. Teach him how to return to the Hotel Mon Plaisir.

2. Get him a local cell phone SIM.

3. Show him how to take money from an ATM machine.

I can now throw him out into the cultural wilderness of Lome, Togo alone, and let him waddle through the Francophone, West African culture of Lome, Togo.

I am not responsible for Americans abroad, I am not delusional that they need repaired, and I make no apologies. And, when Europeans are acting European, I do not try to stop them, they do all the same type of things, but from a different side of the coin.

A Lebanese man, working at some restaurant called the Sultan in central Lome, did the ever so cliché thing of talking about George Bush. I listend until his click was finished.

Europeans want to talk to Americans more than Americans want to talk to Europeans… too funny. It is intriguing culturally to watch the levels of empathy of humans, without trying to change it.

A Peace Corps person in Panama asked m me in 2000,
“Can you enter another culture, and not try to change it?”

Can I accept America, and can I accept other countries without trying to change them, or the people within? And better yet, can I escape the illusion that change is possible.

Thank you,
Andy Graham in Lome Togo February 4, 2014, a Tuesday.

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