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  • The Curious Traveler

Curiosity of Language

Language is a curious portal into understanding a culture—an insight into what’s important in a society. For example, Icelanders have over 40 words to describe snow because it’s an inherent part of living in Iceland. And there are dozens of words to describe camels and their behavior in Arabic because North African and Middle-Eastern desert nomads relied on them for their livelihood.

During my travels in Japan, I learned a few fascinating Japanese words that have no direct English equivalent. My colleagues added several more that they’ve picked up to help compile this list. I hope you enjoy learning some great new vocabulary!

Japanese:
Koi no yokan is the feeling or notion that you will inevitably fall in love with the person you’ve just met. A delayed love at first sight, in a way.

Tsundoku is the act of buying books, not reading them, and letting them pile up on shelves or other surfaces. So basically, this is book hoarding.

Mono no aware means the bittersweet realization of and appreciation for the impermanence of things and the beauty that comes from that. Very Zen.

Norwegian:
Kos means a feeling of coziness, togetherness, physical and emotional warmth, and kindness all bundled into one magnificent moment—a necessary mindset in a country known for long winters with short nights (but with gorgeous summers!).

In Scotland:
A unique “Scotism,” a tartle is that awkward moment of hesitating when you introduce or greet someone and you’ve momentarily forgotten their name. We’ve all been there.

Spanish:
Sobremesa literally translates to “over the table” but really means the time spent lingering after a meal (especially a heavy one) chatting and enjoying the company of family or friends. This happens a lot on our Camino de Santiago trip.

Yaghan, a native language in Argentina: 
Mamihlapinatapai is the look two people give each other when each wants the other to do something that neither of them want to do, but that they both want done. This probably sounds familiar if you have a partner and a dog that needs to be walked when it’s raining.

Portuguese:
Saudade is the sadness of nostalgia for something that has not happened yet or may not happen at all. It perfectly relates to Portugal’s culture of Fado music.

German:
Fernweh is something everyone at Boundless Journeys and many of our guests suffer from. It means a longing for unseen places—similar to wanderlust (also German), but it’s a deeper yearning, “farsickness” or “travel ache.”

Have you learned other “untranslatable” words on your travels? Or ones you just like the sounds of? My personal favorite is Kuzu zang-po—”hello” in Dzongka, the language of Bhutan.

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