Every international traveler knows the situation: A uniformed agent asks a series of questions before allowing you to board a flight.
Did you pack your bag? Did anyone else have access to them? Did anyone give you a gift, and so on?
Whether you are in Munich or Maritius, the questions for international travelers are posed in English. It is a major advantage of being American.
In fact, English is well on the way to becoming Mother Earth`s linqua franca, the modern equivalent of the Latin that once knitted the intelligentsia and rulers of Europe together well into the 20th century.
Americans who travel recognize this advantage perhaps more than anyone else and, consequently, probably have a less jaundiced view of the rest of the world.
In the cabin of an international flight, announcements are always made in English and additionally in the language of departure: Spanish from Madrid, Russian out of Sheremetyevo and Spanish from Santiago, but always coupled with English. It is the law of the air.
It can be comical when a Portuguese pilot sambas through the explanation of which electronic apparatuses must be turned off during flight with words that are not quite English. Most seasoned travelers can recite by heart the oft heard script, but new fliers will scratch their heads in confusion.
In the airport, every newsstand blares headlines in English. Most international magazines are in English or offer page layouts where the English is followed or paralleled by the language of the land where the airport newsstand is located.
CNN is everywhere overhead and overheard. Signage is more frequently in English than any other language, whether in the airport, a restaurant or in shop windows.
Customs officials all speak English of a sort. But, here was a Chinese boarding screener in Paris in the infamous Charles de Gaulle Airport who spoke precious little English and halting French.
In combination with much waving of hands and nodding of heads, the two languages got us through, but it was a bit Monty Pythonesque. Usually, however, the screeners speak more precise English than most American college seniors.
In fact, it is rare for a hired hand in the tourism business not to speak English. Inglais is as ubiquitous as is McDonald's. Many foreign travelers have learned English to facilitate travel, so recently it was with more than a bit of humor that I watched a man and a woman sitting next to each other on a flight discover that both spoke native Portuguese after a full hour of small talk in English.
This linguistic patina of English gives we gringos an obvious advantage over someone from Uzbekistan or Germany, and is a reason why so many Americans can find a job in Shenzhou or Kiev teaching English to eager natives. Some hybrid of English is the language of the future.
But English still has a few competitors: Russian, Chinese and Spanish, foremost.
The Russian language and alphabet dominate the largest landmass on earth. From the Baltic to the Pacific, from the North Pole to Central Asia, Russian links Nordic blonds with swarthy Mongols and olive-skinned Georgians.
But in Moscow, the business class, educators and scientists all take pride in their English, mingle English into their everyday chatter and wax eloquently in our mother tongue whenever the opportunity presents itself to engage an Amerikanets.
There are well over a billion Chinese, but again, anyone who wants to get ahead there speaks English. And, while Spanish serves millions from Tiera del Fuego to Chicago, it, too, is incorporating English at an astonishing rate.
Anyone who has been to Lowe´s lately can attest to the rise of Spanish, even in the heart of modern English. But the educated in Spain and Uruguay and Chile all speak English, because it is also the language of commerce.
Many foreigners, in fact, speak a more polished, grammatically correct English than can be generally found on a Saturday night at Parkview Field.
As for most other languages on Earth, they will eventually go the way of Cornish or Esperanto.
The reason why English is the language of travel is the same reason Latin ruled from the time of Christ for centuries on. English is the language of commerce and wealth.
We still have the No. 1 economy on the planet. Coupled with the dollar as the world´s currency, the benefits to Americans are immense.
We can travel to almost any corner of the Earth, use our money and do business in our language. That gives Americans an immediate upper hand.
In most countries, the dollar is accepted as easily as the local currency, so we are often spared many of the troubles in business transactions. And, now, with our credit cards accepted in ecotourism yurts in Mongolia, we barely need to carry cash, thus further lightening the Americans' travel load.
Additionally, often the ground rules of international commerce are based on Anglo Saxon law, making our lives yet easier. You can expect a refund without involving a border guard.
Ever wonder what languages are spoken among world leaders at important conferences? Ever wonder what language is spoken in a World Cup match when the ref is German, the opposing players Polish and Greek? Nearly everyone uses English.
So, count your lucky stars, Fort Wayners, the world still welcomes us, beckons us and caters to us. Be not afraid of falling off the edge of the world, despite the short legroom, the below-average food and the screaming baby two seats over. Travel is made for Americans.
The world has the "Open" sign in its window and speaks your language.