November 6, 2007

Language And The Taxi

One of my most favorite things to do in NYC is to find myself in a taxi with a driver who is a native speaker of one of the languages I've studied. A few weeks ago my husband was away on business and I was out with the girls and opted for a cab ride home after a dinner out. It was the first time I'd ever used my (extremely limited) Arabic vocabulary to converse with a taxi driver. We exchanged a quick salam-a-lekum and I was in heaven. It was the most fun I'd had that month!

So, tonight after an evening out my husband and I hopped into a cab and directed him towards Brooklyn. The scene that ensued was embarrassingly entertaining. If you don't keep up with NYC news here's the lowdown: NYC taxi's are now required to have GPS and credit card capabilities. There was a brief strike by the taxi union in protest, but it didn't result in much. The primary purpose for the driver's dislike of the new regulations appeared to be the fact that the GPS map was located in the passenger seat (doesn't do the driver much good...) and that being required to accept credit cards would increase the number of "ride and runs". I'm not sure, however, that quite possibly the greatest threat was ever even remotely addressed.


So to continue with this evening's events, our driver was more than willing to take us to our destination, however requested that I enter in the address to his GPS device. I did so (however am fairly certain that many non tech-savvy riders may not have been able to) and we were on our way. On our way that is, until the GPS devise began giving English directions. Within seconds our taxi driver had to interpret, "in 500 meters turn left", and "at the next intersection make a right from the left hand lane". Yeah...I'm sure "intersection" is one of the first vocab words you learn as an immigrant to the US. All of a sudden there are so many more reasons to dislike the new GPS and credit card regulations for taxi drivers in NYC.

If you're a recent immigrant (or an immigrant of 10 years who has lived quite comfortably never needing to understand the way a computer pronounces, "In 5 Meters Navigate One Right Turn") many of the directions given by a modern GPS may not be well understood.

This language barrier coupled with the tangled and always construction ridden streets of NYC just may just result in GPS soup.

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