Thursday, January 15, 2009

It's a Small World, Afterall....

Yes, my world is small. About 1600 people small, take away the 1598 people who do not converse with me in English and you might be able to grasp the gush of garbled words that come out of me when I meet someone who says, "Hello! Do you speak English?" At first there is the brain synapse that happens...someone spoke words in English....stay where you need to translate...proceed.., then I imagine my face breaks out into that look you see on someones face when they have been rescued after floating on the ocean for months in a rubber dingy. Then, it happens. The floodgate opens and ashamedly I cannot shut my mouth.

".......Yes I speak English where are you from me I originally moved from Florida well not really I moved here from Panama and before that Costa Rica but well actually from Florida I have lived here in Futa for a year now well not just in Futa I have a house out in the country but it's not finished I am waiting for electric but you know the volcano blew up and everyone left and I am still waiting but I rent a house in town not really a house just a little cabin to stay in while the house is finished we are finishing it ourselves my husband and I but it's so difficult to get materials now that so many people from Chaiten moved here it's beautiful here isn't it but different a small town like this is amazing but sometimes isolating and we should be out cutting wood and doing varnish work I have to check on the electric situation there are no phone lines cellphone or internet access out there so we come and stay in town to use the internet and wash clothes and catch up on the news yes we have three kids, all grown they live in the US the weather is odd right now when the dry wind blows the ash is unbearable isn't it you should have seen it last month we had to wear masks again...."

It's a shameful display of verbal desperation. And finally I stop. I see the look of "Uh oh, crazy woman" on the victims' face, and say, "Well, listen, nice talking to you...have a wonderful trip!" and take myself out of the conversation space to avoid further self humiliation and think, "I wouldn't want to talk to me if I met me," or something ridiculously similar. However, I feel lighter, a little tingly and elevated in spirit! A release of pent-up English all sploshed out making room for more, building up for the next unsuspecting English speaker.

I will admit that learning Spanish, especially Chilean (
Castellano) is not the wonderfully exciting challenge so many young visitors to Chile find it be be. No. Not at all. In Costa Rica and Panama, there was an ongoing battle between the countries as to who spoke the better Spanish. Panama claimed the honor saying Tico's (as Costa Rican's cutely and lovingly refer to themselves as) ruin the language with their "itos" and "ititos" at the ends of words. Chileans, however strangely enough, proudly will tell you they speak the worst Spanish of all Latin countries.

Once we made the decision to move to Chile, I thought to myself, "At least this time I will not have the added task of learning a new language". We arrived for our first exploratory visit in September 2007, stumbling sleepily off the plane in Santiago at 5:30 am and were greeted by immigration and customs officers.

"gbllano shagu nabadando llegrillorillo," say the handsome Chileno man in uniform.

"What did he say?" Greg asks.

"I have no freakin clue. Are we in the right country?"

"gbllano shagu nabadando llegrillorillo," the handsome Chileno man in uniform says again.

I just hand him the sweaty clutch of passport, ticket and immigration forms and tell Greg to do the same.

Let's put aside that things are called by different names here than in any other Spanish-speaking country. Let's put aside the fact that they speak very fast. They also drop the ends of words, as if it isn't hard enough to distinguish between llanta, lleno, and llave in the best of circumstances. Then we add the slang words, and little cutsyisms (I made that word up for fun). By the time I can look up and find some root of a word in my Spanish dictionary which looks remotely like one of the 30 words I've just heard, we find ourselves shoved through customs and immigration out into the main lobby of the airport with forty or so taxi drivers all speaking at the same time, quickly and badly, vying for our business.

Thankfully there is a nice cafe just to the left of where you exit the customs area with baggage. We escaped to a table and had several cups of coffee while we attempted to get our wits untangled. Then, a deep breath, snatch up the backpacks, and off into a bright-blue Chilean adventure....


ResidentExpat said...

Hang in there. It took me a while to get the hang of Spanish, and I'm grateful I speak it fluently now. But there were many hilarious mistakes along the way. Enjoy the journey! Thanks for visiting by the way.

Laura said...

Oh Vicki, thanks for the hearty chuckle you gave me! Re: meeting another English speaker(although there are a few more around here bit not many), I'm quite sure I react exactly like that.

Vicki Lansen said...

Laura, thanks for your comments. I sat and thought about it after I wrote the post, and realized that aside from my sweet, and unobservant Greg, I have gone three months at a time without speaking to anyone who spoke English. Might explain why I flap my fingers all over my computer keyboard on the allchile forum, and here. Textherapy.