I have a lot to thank Manuel from the popular British TV series, Faulty Towers. He equipped me with at least two survival words for living in Spain. “Que” (what?) and “Si si” (yes…).
I’m convinced you can travel anywhere in the world with not much more than a very limited vocabulary. When it comes to food, a chook is a chook (chicken for those north of down under) and a pig is a pig. Whether it’s in the middle of China or the Middle East. If you’re stuck what to order for a meal, it’s amazing how a few animations help communicate.
Fortunately technology has just about surpassed the need to flap your arms like a chicken or grunt and snort like a pig to order a meal. Mobile apps like Google translator are amazing. I had to post a letter at the Oficina de Correos (post office). Not knowing what counter to go to, pointing the phone’s camera at the sign translated the directions into English on the screen. Great in supermarkets as well. It’s comforting to know buying a carton of leche is actually milk!
But of course to really appreciate the richness of the cultural experience, some understanding of the local language to communicate becomes essential. I did attempt to learn German once. I was a teenager at the time. I must have lost the book soon after I started. Because all I remember to this day is “Ich liebe dich”. I think that’s why my family were concerned as I was departing for Austria. I had this brightly coloured strap secured around my luggage case. Easy to identify on the carousel. But as they explained, running around Germany saying “I love you” with a symbolic striped rainbow coloured strap in tow, could as they explained, attract more than what I had bargained for! I changed the strap.
Language learning is a thriving business here in Valencia. Spanish is the fourth most spoken language in the world, spoken in 44 countries (including the US which is the second largest Spanish speaking country in the world). There are an endless number of English and Spanish schools here. I’ve met people who have sold up everything and secured a twelve month visa to attend a language school too learn Spanish. More than that of course it’s the excitement of a new adventure and cultural experience.
As big is an extraordinary movement what’s called language exchange meetups. Every day and particularly at night in bars, somewhere around the city there is an enthusiastic group meeting to improve their language skills. In casual settings of a few people per table, Spanish and foreign expatriates exchange conversation to improve their language skills as well as meet new friends. It’s a really active social movement. Then there’s others such a Brit who came to Spain with the sole intention to learn Spanish. Living only in a Spanish speaking environment, he explained how the completely isolated feeling slowly turn to occasional “ah ha” moments to gradually picking up the language. And now observing him 12 months on having a fluent conversation in Spanish.
For now I’ll need to rely on English for a while yet. I need a bit more than what Manuel taught me.
Adios Amigos (good bye friends!)
(The photos include a Medieval Market fair as one part of festivities from this weekend. 9th of October is Valencia Day which celebrates when the city was founded. The Christians conquered Valencia on this day 1238 after the Arabs had ruled the city for five centuries.)