I don’t know about you, but I hate being misunderstood. That happens a lot right now.
Well, it happens in many places, if you buy into my Myers-Briggs personality trying to express several things at once and being misunderstood by most people.
But right now, because my Spanish isn’t always that good, I’m misunderstood and probably thought less intelligent because I can’t express my thoughts or I take a long time phrasing relatively simple sentences. When people mumble or speak quickly, that adds at least two levels of difficulty apiece to my understanding. So it’s very easy to become frustrated, resentful, and even slightly bitter about my isolation. It was worse in Nicaragua, because I really didn’t know squat. But it’s here, too, especially when I’m working at the reception. The other night, several Argentinos came into the hostel and wanted to know “where to buy….blah blah.”
I said, “Que?” And they looked at me strange. “Sorry, my Spanish isn’t that good. Can you repeat that, please? Where to buy…?”
“OH MY GOD! This girl doesn’t speak any Spanish!” one yelled loudly–in English.
I was really frustrated then, but was so mad that it was difficult to translate my thoughts into Spanish. “I can speak Spanish!” I said.
“Where can we buy food?” the first man repeated.
“Okay, like, what type of food?” I asked. They stared at me like I was stupid. “Restaurants, supermarkets, what do you want?” I asked, growing more angry.
“Bars, or restaurants,” they said.
Then I gave them directions, and almost gave them bad ones. Like, two-miles-out-of-your-way bad ones. And it really rankled me. And it still does, when I think about it, four days later.
Or, for example, today it took a full five-minute conversation for the grocery store clerk to understand that I was looking for vanilla. I kept trying to describe vanilla (without knowing the word for “spice”) and the poor woman kept smiling and saying she didn’t understand what I was asking. I said it was for cooking, a little sweet, and used in cookies and cakes. It had flavor. She took me to spices for cooking meat. I explained it was liquid, and she frowned. I said it was used for breakfast sometimes.
“Ah! Desayuno!” she exclaimed, and pulled me to the next aisle.
Turns out, I had already looked there, but missed it. Top shelf at the end of the aisle. She was kind throughout the whole embarrassing thing (I think I apologized for my Spanish three times), and in the end we understood each other. But something as simple as saying, “where’s the vanilla?” turns into a long, drawn-out process when I don’t know the word for “vanilla.”
But feeling stupid is a part of learning, even though I despite it, and it does keep my ego in check. So every time I think, “Spanish is stupid!” I remind myself that English has it’s own share of ridiculous conjugations and idiosyncrasies. When people are incredibly rude to me, as I am obviously struggling yet trying, I just remind myself that they’re jerks and I am acting better than them, even if my Spanish isn’t.
And I pray. I practice. I learn patience. I learn humility. When I realize I can’t even say, “By the way, last week I wanted you to buy me some cake,” in Spanish (grammar structure in that is hard!) without thinking for a full minute, I just take a deep breath and should say, “Okay, God. I am weak. I am fallible. I need help.” And even though my Spanish hasn’t improved by leaps and bounds, my reliance on God has grown a smidgen. And that’s more important in the long run, anyway.