This blog post is a short little write-up about some random memory I have, which I thought was worth sharing.
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THE TWO NUTTERS
I was two weeks into learning Spanish in Antigua, Guatemala. This beautiful colonial town, nestled between three volcanoes, is a real mecca for Spanish tutoring, with many mom-and-pop-style language schools catering to backpackers. On this day it was decided that to get some real-world experience, all of the students would go to a central square nearby to converse in Spanish with local merchants. I was one of the oldest students, being in my 30s at the time, and was confident I was also one of the worst students. This anecdote I am sharing will support this hypothesis. (Thankfully, there was a friendly American named Tom that was both older than me and even worse at Spanish! I swear it's true!)
Anyone who knows me well knows I love cashews, so when we approached the square I was determined to find a merchant that had roasted cashews on offer. After a minute or so, I found one on the edge of the mercado, so I made a bee-line towards him. Before I jumped into the business exchange, I thought I would ask him if he spoke Spanish, which in hindsight was absolutely ridiculous. I mean, this olive-complected nutter -- forgive me for using that expression, but it does fit! -- was clearly 100% Guatemalan, and the likelihood that he spoke Spanish was also exactly 100%. However, these facts did not deter me one iota. (In my defense: I only knew about a dozen or so words of Spanish at the time, and I wanted to make full use of my meager arsenal.)
Approaching the vendor I asked casually: "Hablo Espanol?" A few moments passed. He looked at me confused, then slightly cocked an eyebrow. I thought: "Come on, my accent isn't that bad." So I slowed down my words and increased their volume: "Haaab-LOHHHHH Essss-paaaan-YOLLLLL?" like I was addressing someone hard of hearing, or soft of head. Now he made a really strange expression, as if I had insulted him, and turned away. He had decided to ignore me and went back to what he was doing before, which was putting handfuls of cashews into little plastic baggies. This guy was done with me. Now I was confused. What the hell?
Dejected, I went looking for Heather, my traveling companion. When I found her she was having what seemed like a great conversation, all in Spanish, with a friendly, smiling vendor. She had already made her purchase, and now it seemed like they were chatting just for fun, like they were friends from way back. There were plenty of smiles, laughs, and head nods between them. How was this even possible? Heather had taken Spanish for only two weeks, like myself. I interrupted them, pulled Heather away from her new amiga, and explained how poorly my own experience had gone, and that I didn't even get past my initial greeting. "What did you say to him?" she asked, narrowing her eyes. She knew it was something stupid... So did I.
"¿Hablo español?" I told her, sheepishly, and with a little shrug. I tried to say it as perfectly as I could. She stared at me blankly. So I added that when the guy didn't respond, I asked him again: "¿Hablo español?"
Finally Heather nodded her head, slowly, and knowingly. Very matter-of-fact she explained: "Matt, you were asking that poor guy over and over: 'Do I speak Spanish? Do I speak Spanish?' He probably thought you were a total nutjob!" Indeed he did, Heather. Indeed he did.
And that, my friends, is the story of the Two Nutters...
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