How Google Translate helped me with the woman who pummelled my buttocks

The pain, the awkwardness, the technology that brought us together

Celeste Lindell, Flickr

Celeste Lindell, Flickr

About a month ago I threw my back out. I couldn’t walk or move properly. It was painful to drive. (In hindsight I shouldn’t have been driving but I had to get to the shiatsu massage place, without which this story wouldn’t have taken place).

From the floor of my apartment I use my phone to book and pay for a shiatsu massage for 9am the following morning, the earliest available appointment and immediately began worrying that the pre-payment situation was going to cause a problem.

The next morning I shuffled into the shiatsu massage - shall we call it a parlour? - place up the road in quite a bit of pain.

I was met enthusiastically by a Thai woman, who it became clear shortly after, did not speak very much English but had clearly learned how to say my name because it was the first word I was greeted with.

She ushered me through to the massage table where she proceeded to knead out all my kinks.

It became clear through the duration that she did not understand what I was saying: “You ok?” were the only English words she seemed to know, so I would respond intermittently with an occasional thumbs up.

So when it came to the end and I was due to pay, I realised, upon trying, and failing, to explain that I had already paid through PayPal when I made the booking, that I held in my hands the power to remedy the situation, and save anyone embarrassment: Google Translate.

Using my handy smartphone I quickly Google Translated the aforementioned statement into Thai, and use the phonetics for pronunciation to communicate in the masseuse’s native language, while simultaneously showing her my phone in case I botched it up. (I botched it up).

(This woman, all of five foot three had pummelled the better half of my back, arms, legs and buttocks, the least I could do is try to speak to her in her own language. And I learned a little bit of Thai in the process. Probably formal Thai that would get me laughed at if I tried it in social situations, but hey, it did the trick).

She laughed with recognition, smiled, took the receipt number from my phone, wrote it down and that was it.

A potentially uncomfortable situation was remedied thanks to the power of technology. Nobody was embarrassed. Time was saved. And I could go about my day upright, vertical and relatively pain free.

We hear a lot about “world-changing” technology, when so little of it really is. But in this moment technology was not disruptive, it was complimentary, it filled in the gaps. And for a minute or three maybe it brought two complete strangers that much closer together.

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