Previously unbeknownst to me Mexicans are generally talkative people. These outgoing folks appear to love conversing with anyone and everyone using a quick cadence along with full animation in both voice and facial expression. Perhaps it’s because the Spanish language puts the noun before the modifying adjectives but there also seems to be quite a bit of talking over each other and interjection done in a lighthearted participatory manner. I fully understand my statement is a blanket generalization however it is based on observations during my first few weeks as a visa holding Temporary Resident. While residing in the US I had multiple encounters of what I like to call “mistaken friendliness”. Picture this. You’re walking through the Target parking lot and on course to pass a person walking straight toward you. He’s smiling, looks friendly and so close in proximity you feel slightly awkward. All of a sudden he says, “Hey! How’s it going?” Relieved at the fact that the uncomfortable state of affairs has been lifted you smile and respond, “Great! How’s your day?” This is the exact moment you notice the Airpods and the cellphone in hand. Well, shoot. He’s not actually speaking to you. Now you’ve ramped up the situation from uncomfortable to embarrassing. He’s noticed you mouthing phrases while maintaining eye contact. At this point he stops, asks the true recipient of his greeting to hold for a moment, removes one Airpod and asks if you need anything. Nope, just relishing in this moment of “mistaken friendliness”. Move this situation to San Carlos and it’s a game changer. People in Mexico are genuinely approachable and chances are they actually are speaking to you. It doesn’t matter if you’re waiting in line to check out at the grocery store, sitting on the beach, deciding the flavor of Thrifty ice cream you’ll select or walking your dog. Chances are a conversation will occur.
Knowing limited greetings in Spanish can be both a blessing and a curse. If you’re the first to speak perhaps uttering, “Buenos dias,” or “¿Como estas?” you’ve set yourself up as a potential fluent speaker of the language. In this case you are inundated with the Spanish language at an accelerated speed. Your quizzical, deer in the headlights expression then says it all revealing you don’t actually, hablas espanol. You have just played the role of the American guy with the Airpods. If the conversation is initiated by the other person with a phrase you actually know possibly, “Buenas tardes,” or “¿Que pasa?” you might just be clever enough to translate their statement and verbalize a reasonable response. Now you’ve really done it. A two way parlay has begun and you’ve already played all of your cards.
If you ever decide to move to a foreign country, the first thing you should do after settling in is to learn the language. In San Carlos we could easily survive using only the English language. The town has a population of about 8,000 people of which approximately ⅓ are from the United States, ⅓ migrated south from Canada and the remaining ⅓ are Mexicans. In the town for the most part restaurant menus and other written directives are translated in English and many employees are bilingual. Making it through daily ongoings are relatively manageable. However, we chose to move to San Carlos and to immerse ourselves in the area to gain a deeper understanding of the Mexican culture. Learning the language of the culture is the key to unlocking its beauty. Additionally, not knowing the language of your surroundings can quickly create misconceptions.
We take Lola on early morning walks. During these daily walks we pass many of the same people exercising or walking pooches of their own. Friendly greetings just come with the territory once you’ve seen the same face a number of times. Many people would say, “Good morning!”, “Buen dia!” or “¿Como estas?” To those we could respond. But it eventually gets a bit stale not elaborating on these common greetings. After all, these are our new neighbors and this is a great opportunity to meet people. Speaking to the Americans/Canadians, no problem. Mexicans…well that’s another story. With the hello complete, now what? I could confirm that the weather is indeed very hot, “Hace calor!” Or perhaps ask their names “¿Como te llamas?” Both are decent starters.
So one morning I’m walking Lola and as luck would have it, rounding the corner I notice a woman exiting her home. Prime opportunity to practice mi espanol. I smile and offer a, “Hola, buenos dias!”
She responds, “Buen dia,” and then added what I believe to be,“¿Como se llama?”
My first thought is, great she stole my line but hey, I can take this moment to introduce myself. So here goes, “Me llamo Laura.” At that moment a peculiar look crosses her face, she pauses, leans down and says in a high pitched and somewhat animated voice, “Hola, Laura,” directly to my Jack Russell Terrier. Disaster! I’m so thrown by this diversion to my greeting plan that I totally forgot to ask her name and quite frankly I’m sure she does not care to know the name of a human who would name their dog Laura. Claro que no. (Clearly, no.)
Alas following the incident of mistaken identity Mike and I began Spanish tutoring. Our instructor is an incredible woman named Dolores Monterrubio Álvarez. She’s an amazing teacher and dear person. We feel lucky to have her guiding us through espanol 101 with her expertise, patience and humor. Are we fluent? Not hardly but we are definitely absorbing this beautiful, unique language. Until next time I’ll leave you with a Mexican saying, “El que a buen árbol se arrima, buena sombra le cobija.” Translation: He who gets close to a good tree will find nice shade. Meaning: Surround yourself with those who will teach and stimulate your growth. A good mentor, teacher or role model is hard to find so cherish the people who help you grow.
August 6, 2019
* This blog entry is dedicated to all the wonderful teachers and staff members beginning the new school year. You make a difference every single day.
Quote – “I was thinking of getting a German Shepherd once, but I didn’t want to learn another language just to have a dog.”– Anonymous