In a Foreign Land

Toto, I’ve a feeling we’re not in Kansas any more. ~ Dorothy Gale


During our global travels, we have always made an attempt to learn small words and phrases in the language of the country we are visiting. Not only do these small words help us navigate around the country during our stay, but it offers a kinship with the natives that we’ve done our homework and attempt to fit in without expecting them to speak English for us. My rule of thumb is to say hello in their language and then say hello in English. This sequence came from an early interaction with a shopkeeper in Poland who thought I spoke the language since I had said ‘good morning’ in Polish. She then prattled off a sentence or two in Polish thinking I was fluent. With a smile, I said, in Polish, ‘I’m sorry, I don’t speak Polish’. Her quizzical look turned to a smile and a laugh when she realized what was happening. She then switched to a few English words she knew and with much nodding and smiling I purchased a few souvenirs. As I left, I looked at her, waved and said good bye in Polish and she said good bye in English. Nice.

As much as I would like it to, the world of aviation terminology doesn’t quite fit into this nice little package for me. Due to it’s military origins, the aviation language is built on the international radiotelephony spelling alphabet and acronyms. Words such as NOTAMS, FAA, ICAO, IFR, VFR and even TOMATOFLAMES, meaning:
Oil pressure
Manifold pressure
Temperature sensor (liquid-cooled)
Oil temperature (air cooled)
Fuel gauge
Landing gear position
Airspeed indicator
Magnetic compass
Seat belts

,are used. Even airport locations are abbreviated. We all know: LAX, ORD, JFK and BMI.

As the wife of a pilot, I am thankful for the ease of use of these terms and know that it is easier to memorize long lists of items in this way. If you’ve ever been in a tense flight situation, these tools make communication as well as action more rapid when speed and decision making can be of the utmost importance. However, at the flying club christmas party, I didn’t see the ease or quickness in any of these terms. Being a pilot’s wife and glorified map holder, I gazed blankly while sipping my beer and nodding my head while others buzzed off acronym after acronym in a frenzied state while relaying their latest flying exploits. ‘OMG, the BFAs were MIA and then I couldn’t land due to the QETMS and HRRs! I was ROFLMFAO!’ *sigh*

With the myriad of terms and abbreviations, I don’t think I stand a chance in any aviation based conversation, but have managed to learn a few. I suppose it is like learning any other language. Start small, use it every day, learn the important stuff and the rest will come as you go. I love the challenge of visiting a foreign land and people, so why should this be any different? It’s like taking a trip without the hassel and expense, right? If only there was a little Polish shopkeeper at the next flying club christmas party to smile, wave and say ‘good bye’.

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