I’ve become obsessed with learning Spanish recently. This is partly due to the fact that my last three trips have been to Spanish speaking countries (Colombia, Mexico and the US territory of Puerto Rico) and partly due to my job. I work in the International terminal at the airport, so least once per day I encounter some lost non-English speaker looking for Taca or Mexicana Airlines and wondering if I abla espanol? With each encounter all I can do is shake my head and then inwardly scold myself for not having studied a language I can actually use outside of Berlin or a small Asian island half way across the world.
Most Americans can boast to speaking at the very least, ‘high school Spanish’ but I don’t even have that. I studied Japanese in elementary school and German in college, so unfortunately my Spanish is limited to a very unuseful assortment of commercial catchphrases and film and television quotes that I picked up over the years. My childhood Spanish instructors were the Terminator (Hasta La Vista, Baby) and a talking Chiquaqua (Yo qui ero Taco Bell). I may not speak high school Spanish but my movie Spanish is damn near passable.
But it doesn’t get me very far, which became especially apparent when I went to Colombia, a country known more for it’s kidnappings and drug cartels than it’s tourism and abundance of English speakers. I loved Colombia and found it to be surprisingly safe, but traveling anywhere was confusing as Hell. No one spoke English. No one. Which is something that my travel buddy and I probably should of realized before we booked our tickets to Bogota, but to be perfectly honest, we really thought that we’d come fully prepared. We had a Spanish dictionary (which I inconveniently misplaced the first day of the trip but that’s beside the point), and we’d memorized a few important phrases that we figured we’d make use of at some point during the trip. Phrases like “Donde esta Shakira?” and “No mas Cocaine, por favor.” You know, useful things like that.
Funnily enough though, for a country that supposedly spawned the International singing sensation slash She-Wolf extraordinaire, no one seemed to know where she was. Or even care. Some I suspect, had never even heard of her and those who had, flat-out refused to play her music.
Like the DJ at the discoteca we visited, for example. My friend and I had spent the evening half-heartedly dancing to the Black-Eyed Peas and Lady Gaga before I finally worked up the courage to approach the DJ booth. I don’t normally listen to Shakira, but we were in Colombia. A visit to Colombia without singing along to the ingenious lyrical masterpiece that is Hips Don’t Lie is like a trip to Puerto Rico without the wise words of Ricky Martin’s Livin La Vita Loca. It just isn’t done.
“Hola!” I hollered to the DJ. She turned and looked at me and her face registered surprise. It was my birthday and in honor of our celebration, the club had presented me with a sash and crown which I figured couldn’t hurt my cause but probably made the DJ think I was Livin’ La Viva Loca…and not in a good way.
“Shakira?” I inquired hesitantly. I pointed at the stereo. She looked confused, frowned and then said a whole lotta something that I didn’t understand.
“Que? Shakira, Shakira! Hips don’t lie, por favor. Si…” I stuttered, pointing again at the stereo.
And then it was her turn to point to the stereo and say something equally incomprehensible.
And so our conversation continued, with her sounding like a broken record and me stretching the limits of my Movie Spanish with “Andale! Ariba!” (Speedy Gonzoles from Looney Toons) until I eventually wandered back to my table in defeat.
It’s for this reason and more that I think I want to let go of my “everybody-speaks-Spanish-so-I’m-going-to-be-different-and-learn-a-language-I’ll-never-use-and-eventually-forget” mentality and enroll myself into Espanol 101. But not at the community college but somewhere exotic and cool.
I’m thinking Guatemala…
Antigua Relexion by Freddy Murphy
Cerro de la Cruz by Freddy Murphy
Joy Time by Freddy Murphy
I’m going to be laid off from the airline soon and I figure rather than waste away unemployed in the US…I might as well go to Central America where I can waste away unemployed for a lot less money…and gain a resume-building language in the process.
So. What do you think? Am I crazy?
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