Getting off of an airplane in a foreign country that I’ve never been to before is an experience that never fails to take my breath away. It’s like you’ve been literally spirited away- one moment you’re in one place and then BAM! Your world gets rocked down to its very core. The thrilling possibility of new friends and experiences the moment you set foot off of that plane is enough to make your chest burst with excitement.
Below is a recounting of my first ever “lost in translation” moment in Sweden, one that I think is worth cherishing for life:
“Kay-Tee-Aych…. KAY-TEE-AYCH! You can’t miss it! Biggest technical school in the country?” I plead with the taxi drivers outside Arlanda International airport after a grueling 11 hour flight with multiple layovers.
The taxi driver looks at me pityingly and just shakes his head- “No, no- We don’t know this KTH that you’re talking about.”
Huffily, I go from one taxi driver to the next and am rewarded with the same quizzical look in each case.
I decide the time for dignity is gone and start engaging in a game of verbal charades- “OK, look. It’s a big school, for scientists and engineers, right? You go to this school to learn physics and math and things like that.”
By now, the un-savory cocktail of desperation, fatigue and cultural shock has made my voice crack, and I’ve started gathering my own little ogling crowd. Like Will Smith in the movie “I Am Legend,” I start making peace with fact that I might have seek refuge somewhere, anywhere, as daylight is fast receding.
Just when I’ve all but given up hope, my guardian angel, slouch that she is, decides that she’s tormented me enough. Lo and behold- an amused-looking girl makes her way to through the spectacle, asking: “Do you mean KOU-TAY-HOU?”
“I don’t know,” I respond resignedly, “do I?”
As I give the elevator pitch for KTH for the umpteenth time, she laughs and nods sagely. “Yes, you’re looking for Kou-Tay-Hou, down on Valhallavägen.”
I thank my savior profusely as she just laughs and nods.
As the taxi pulls away from the curb, I think amusedly of how even acronyms can be lost in translation, reveling in my newfound knowledge that KTH is pronounced Kou-Tay-Hou in Swedish.