Breaking Language Barriers on a Hawaii Cruise

by Stewart M. Bartlett

Inside the Wheelhouse Bar
Inside the Wheelhouse Bar

My wife’s schoolgirl French was more than a little rusty, but that was soon to change thanks to a couple we met during our Hawaiian cruise.

Our cruise ship, Golden Princess, was whisking us on our way to Hawaii. Lunching in the Horizon Court, a couple approached our table and asked if they could join Mary and me. Yvon and Martine St. Pierre were from Jonquiere, a small riverside city in the Quebec region of Canada. Yvon’s English was fairly good, but Martine’s was hesitant at best.

Still, we found plenty of common ground. Mary and I are Canada-holics so we were quite conversant about their part of the world. Plus, we both have grandchildren we dote on, so there was that, too.

Over our meal, we had a little fun with Mary practicing her French with Martine and Yvon honing his English with me. We thought that was it. After four days touring Hawaii, we returned to the ship and ran into the couple again. That’s when we hit it off for good.

For the next few days, as the ship cruised the Pacific on its way back to Los Angeles, we met for meals and evening shows. We’d cap our nights with a drink at the Wheelhouse Bar.

A passerby would think what a cosmopolitan group, hearing a smattering of French, a dollop of English. Throughout our sea days heading back to the States, Mary steadily worked on her French with Martine, while Yvon chose to perfect his English with me. In any language, we were becoming great friends.  

After the cruise, we kept in touch from our house in England. When Mary and I booked a Canada & New England cruise aboard Emerald Princess between Quebec and Fort Lauderdale, Yvon and Martine promptly insisted we stay with them for a few days beforehand.

They treated us beautifully, introducing us to family and friends in and around Jonquiere, and generously plied us with so many gifts; we had to ship them home to avoid excess-weight charges on our return flight.

The best surprise was yet to come. The couple drove us to the Port of Quebec. We were saying our goodbyes while Yvon lifted our cases out of the car. When he pulled two extra suitcases out of the trunk, we were confused. Was he giving us new luggage? Then Yvon told us their surprise…he and Martine would be joining us on the cruise.

We were lost for words in French and English. Mary was still dazed as we entered our stateroom. She couldn’t restrain herself from regurgitating the tale to Christian, our cabin steward. He listened politely then slipped away only to return with four glasses of champagne for the four of us to enjoy.

On Emerald Princess, our friendship continued to flourish along with our foreign language skills. We loved our time spent together, sharing meals and dazzling nightlife.  

Just this past September, we joined Yvon and Martine in Paris. It was a quick train ride on the Eurostar from London to Paris. Mary’s French, thanks to Martine, was up for the Paris challenge.

Our roving language lab/friendship will be in session next year when they come to England to see us and again in 2015, when we go to Quebec for a visit.

To think that initial language difficulties could have prevented this true friendship from ever launching. Instead, Mary,myself, Yvon and Martine chose to push out of our comfort zones and hesitatingly conducted that first, fragmented, bilingual conversation aboard Golden Princess.

In addition to their travel plans with the St. Pierres, Stewart and Mary will be taking their eighth cruise vacation on Golden Princess next year to Hawaii, Tahiti and Western Samoa.