I realized something as I walked across the cobblestone streets of Montevideo, Uruguay last year as a passerby smiled said “hello.” I never knew how much english meant to me. It’s my heart language: a language I’ve grown up with, feel comfortable with, and fully understand. You wouldn’t think a simple hello would mean so much, but when you’ve been in a foreign country where everyone speaks a different language it is pretty special. I remember coming back to America and stepping off the plane into the Dallas Airport and hearing little english side conversations going on everywhere. I hadn’t heard so many people speaking english in six weeks and as ridiculous as it sounds, it brought tears to my eyes because it was such a comfort. I could finally understand what was going on around me—and I didn’t get the “stupid American” glance from the Uruguayan people who couldn’t understand what I was saying. It was a joy. (The pictures below are some from Uruguay!)
So why is this important to nursing?
If hearing someone say “hello” in my heart language meant that much to me, I’m sure other people who come to America and don’t speak english would feel the same way about someone saying “hello” to them in their heart language.
Whenever I work with patient who speaks spanish I always say “hola” and try to introduce myself in spanish. Of course I hope to learn the language someday—but you don’t have to speak someone else’s language to say one word that they will understand. I also know how to say “hello” in sign language for my patients who are deaf…mostly because I love watching Switched at Birth by ABC family. But if I don’t know how to say a heart language hello I try to look it up or ask a family member who is bilingual. You might sound silly trying, but I guarantee you will get the biggest and brightest smile out of your patient for the small effort. Even if your patient is bilingual, their heart language is still their first language and it will mean a lot to them. One time I was taking care of a Hmong family, and my roommate happens to be Hmong (Julie–the adorable lady with me in the pic with our hotel) so I asked her how to say “hello” in Hmong. It put me out of my comfort zone, but I know it made that patient’s day. Nyob Zoo (pronounced nyaw zhong)!
When all else fails smiling is a universal language,