After a weekend in Paris and a sweltering last day in Rome, I took to the sky and headed toward San Sebastian, Spain where darling Thomas is spending his summer. Within the span of three days, I was faced with learning to order coffee in three different languages, which is a lot to handle without any espresso pumping through my veins. My Italian was functional because I took a crash course every morning at 8 am for the first two weeks I was there. My French was coherent, because I’m on my fourth semester of it with only one honor code violation under my belt. My Spanish, however, is severely lacking. In terms of language comprehension, I could be outpaced by any child who’s seen a single commercial for Dora the Explorer on Ice.
It was a shock to be submerged in a place where I could not communicate even the most basic sentiment. In Rome, the pack of fourteen girls that constantly surrounded me was enough keep me from realizing how out of place I was. Here, the only person I’m able to talk to is Thomas. Sure, he translates the conversations I’m having, but my witty quips don’t have the same punch when relayed slowly in broken Spanish. In my host home, with a pastor and his wife, the challenge is even greater in the evenings and mornings when Thomas is not around.
The case study for my time in Spain is my relationship with Nancy. I woke up one morning to a hoard of screaming children, their frantic parents preparing to leave them for the day, and a very tranquil Nancy. Nancy is the kids’ grandmother and she knows only one sentence in English (“my name…is Nancy!”) which she says all the time. Once the parents left, Nancy grabbed my hand and took me on a tour around the apartment, jabbering in a nonstop stream of Spanish. She glanced at me periodically, as though looking for some affirmation that I understood why she was waving around half of an avocado and a box of dryer sheets. I would give her a bewildered smile and we’d move on. The tour ended at the kitchen table when, unable to decline any of her offers, I found myself surrounded by three kinds of bread, marmalade, coffee, sugar, sugar alternatives, and enough fruit to stock a midsize grocery store.
I was elbow deep in devouring a peach when I heard “Lenn! Lenn! Lenn!” coming from the living room. I rushed in and found Nancy and the kids watching a home video of the 4 year-old, Isaac, in a school musical. He was dancing around on stage dressed like a dog. That’s when I made my first mistake. I decided to share an anecdote of my own experience playing a cow that meowed in our elementary school production of Wack-a-Doo Zoo. My acclaimed performance as a tormented heifer struggling through an identity crisis would have been difficult to describe in English. In Spanish, it was impossible. The interaction quickly deteriorated, until the two of us were facing one another across the coffee table, Nancy barking while I milked imaginary udders and emitted loud, sustained moos.