Another Failed T-Shirt Experiment
Five years after my last t-shirt experiment I decided it was time for a new one. This one would be better, I thought, for several reasons.
And, just like the last t-shirt experiment, it failed.
My Last T-Shirt Experiment
About five years ago I was studying Lao. I had a few patient friends that would occasionally let me practice Lao with them, but I wanted to try my Lao on strangers. Since Sacramento is home to several Lao immigrants, I
had stole the great idea to have a t-shirt made to invite people to speak to me in Lao.
So, I asked my little sister to make the shirt for me. It says (in Lao): "Hello. I am learning Lao. Please speak to me."
At first I was super scared to wear it in public. I remember wearing to the grocery store the first time. I knew someone was going to start speaking to me in Lao at a million miles a second, and I wasn't going to understand them or be able to respond.
But, nothing happened.
In fact, in five years, the shirt has only started one 30-second Lao conversation. That conversation wasn't even with a Lao person. It was with a Cambodian who spoke a little Lao. Lots of (mostly white) people have asked me what my shirt says, but it has been a large failure in starting actual conversations in Lao.
One of my Lao friends told me when I first had my shirt made that it probably wouldn't work. She explained that Lao people are generally shy, and so even if a Lao person saw it, they probably wouldn't speak to me.
It's still one of my favorite shirts.
My New Experiment
Fast forward to a couple of months ago. I was planning a trip to Disneyland. I had the bright idea that Disneyland would be the perfect place to try another t-shirt experiment. Disneyland is full of tourists from all over the world. Surely some of them would speak one of the languages I'm working on.
I decided on Esperanto. I had a few reasons for this. One, in contrast to Lao speakers who are allegedly shy, Esperanto speakers are generally excited about speaking Esperanto. I figured if an Esperantisto saw my shirt they couldn't resist speaking to me.
I also chose Esperanto because I can actually hold a conversation in Esperanto. I wouldn't call myself super-fluent in Esperanto, but unlike Lao, I've had dozens of conversations in Esperanto, including some long conversations. So, if an Esperanto speaker started talking to me, I would be able to respond intelligently.
So, I had my little sister make me two shirts.
These shirts are simpler than my Lao shirts. They just say "Do you speak Esperanto?"
I wore one on the day I traveled to Disneyland, and the other I wore in the park.
As you can probably tell from the title of this blog post, it didn't work. I think one or two people asked what my shirt said, but that was it.
I haven't given up yet. I may try a different language next time, or perhaps a different place.
I live close enough to San Francisco that I travel there about once every year or two. I've actually had some good experience talking to strangers in other languages in the more touristy parts of town, like Pier 39. Last year, I heard a family talking in French, so I introduced myself and talked to them for a few minutes. And a few times I've talked to Italian tourists in San Francisco. And no please-speak-to-me t-shirts were involved.
I'm curious if I wore a t-shirt in San Francisco inviting people to speak to me in Italian or French if the shirts would help or hinder.
If I ever try it, I'll let you know.
In the mean time, the world would be a better place if more Esperanto speakers wore t-shirts identifying themselves as Esperanto Speakers. Amazon has a several good ones.