When you live in a country that uses a different language than the one you know, well, it can make life ‘different’. Okay, we live in Spain and, as all Brits know, it’s difficult to practise for that GCSE in Spanish while you’re on a package tour because all the Spanish waiters and receptionists in holiday Spain can speak English. There again (and I’ve done it), you could talk to the cleaner of your apartment, as these ladies don’t often come into contact with the key holders and so don’t get much chance to understand another language.
In the northern parts of Spain, not being able to speak Spanish means you’re going to have to seek help from someone who can help with the exchange of words. As this is not a tourist area with hot beaches, the restaurant and hotel staff here in Galicia may have only a smattering of English, if any at all, so you can come up against some interesting situations.
• Eating out? If you don’t understand the menu, you might have to point at what someone else if having. After all, why prepare the menu in other languages, if foreigners are few and far between?
• Paying at the supermarket till? Ah, well, this isn’t necessarily a problem now. Until recently, if you didn’t catch what the checkout operator quoted as the cost of your shopping, it was easier to either hand over your purse and let him or her take the money, or pay by credit card. Now, the supermarket checkouts have a little screen which displays the price and the wise shop assistant, who can usually spot a foreigner, will swing the screen round in your direction for easy reading.
• Asking directions? Simply produce a piece of paper with the name of the place you are looking for and hope that the person you’re asking uses a few hand signals. Remember the first two or three, get to that point and then ask again. If they don’t use any hand signals, simply ask someone else.
• A doctor’s appointment? Even making the appointment is difficult in itself, so what chance have you got if you get as far as seeing the doctor?
• Posting a letter? Unlike England, where you can buy a stamp in most shops, Spain demands that you visit a ‘tabac’ or an ‘estanco’, state-owned’ shops where you also have to go to buy cigarettes. Notice I didn’t say the post office. Though you can buy stamps in a post office, I have on occasion been told by the gentleman in our local branch that he doesn’t have any stamps and that I must go to the aforementioned places. If you’re like us and you want to post your letters when you’re having a ride out on Sunday, you’ll come a cropper if you haven’t got stamps in the house, as these shops aren’t open on the day of rest. Getting back to the point, if you don’t speak Spanish, getting what you want in the post office could be fun for others to watch.
Yes, life is certainly different when you can’t ‘get by’ with the language. Having left England for a more sedate lifestyle, those first few months in our new country proved more stressful than anything we had ever known. Still, saying ‘sorry’ in Spanish quite often gets the reply of ‘no pasa nada’.
Now how would you take that?