Getting away gives us a fresh perspective on the world – and ourselves

If we don’t know or expose ourselves to other cultures, it’s very hard to understand – let alone appreciate – our own, writes Harry Readhead

<p>Through new eyes: Porto’s old quarter on the Douro river in Portugal</p>

Through new eyes: Porto’s old quarter on the Douro river in Portugal

When I was small and rosy-cheeked and by all accounts an unbearable little show-off, my dad always told me and my brother to speak a little of the local language whenever we were abroad. It was a basic gesture of respect, he suggested: a way of acknowledging that we were guests in someone else’s country, and that although we could get by without having to speak a word of any language except our own promiscuous tongue – or perhaps, because of this – we shouldn’t. And of course, speaking a little bit of the local language smooths the whole travelling business. We are a practical family.

This naturally comes to mind whenever I go abroad; and today, it just so happens that, barring all disasters, I will be travelling to Portugal. I was able to study a morsel of Portuguese during my squandered years at university, but I will still be crossing my fingers every time I’ve ordered food in the local language.

Charles Darwin wrote somewhere that human beings have a compulsive need for language: babies do not teach themselves to cook, or juggle, or pull off outrageous feats of football artistry à la Ella Toone. But they do babble, all by themselves, and that babble becomes language.

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