I will never forget the first of MANY language mistakes I made when I moved to Spain. I had a little Spanish under my belt, albeit NOT Castellano, so I was feeling pretty good when I stepped off the airplane and into the wonderful world of Madrid. And then I looked up at the signs, which were in Spanish and English, and I thought, “Easy”. WRONG!!!!
Apparently, I look Spanish, so some woman came up to me said she was from Buenos Aires (all in Spanish), and was wondering if I might help her around the airport and suggest some restaurants she might like in Madrid. I UNDERSTOOD what she was saying, but when it came time to reply, I was at a total loss. Don’t get me wrong, I sputtered out something and did indeed help her, but that was a MAJOR ego blow. I knew I had to reassess my attitude then, and there.
There happened to be a sweet elderly couple who were having trouble with their bags, so I went over and picked them up and put them on their luggage trolley. The woman reminded me of the sweet grandmothers you always see portrayed in Italian, yes Italian, movies… As it turns out, they were quite wealthy Argentines, and I was the only one who would help them, and I did so without asking… I pushed their trolley piled high with my luggage and theirs to the taxi terminal. When we arrived, the woman couldn’t stop hugging me and telling me that she had just lost a granddaughter who looked very similar to me, and that she was just sure it was her granddaughter’s way of looking out for them. She started to cry, and her husband teared up and stared at me as I helped the cabby put their luggage in the trunk.
I walked back over, and tried to figure out what to say in my head, BEFORE I opened my mouth and screwed everything up…. TOO LATE… They started asking me all these questions.. And all I could get out was that I was from California here to study and that I missed home. And because the woman was crying and so was the man at this point I had NO IDEA what to do… They begged me not to leave them. Apparently, their granddaughter had died while they were on a trip to Madrid before, and they were convinced I was there to show them they had a second chance with their granddaughter. How could I say no?? These people were clearly distraught and for some reason, needed ME.
Before I knew it, we were in two taxis, due to all of our luggage. They took me to my hotel and took care of the Spanish speaking and got me settled in my room, and then they took me to their hotel. Where I did everything I could to act like a good granddaughter, and tried very hard to communicate how appreciative I was for ALL their help and kindness.
And then they asked me to dinner, did I mention they were staying at the Ritz??? I tried to say that I couldn’t impose, and even got someone at the hotel to translate for me, but the woman begged, and had the same person translate back to me, saying “Please, this would be the greatest gift one could ever have or give, more time with my granddaughter”. What kind of JERK says NO to that????? I was in WAY over my head…
They took me to some very upscale restaurant, where they introduced me to all sorts of Spanish food and culture. And as I found myself relaxing, something strange started to happen. I understood them…It was almost as if I had stepped into the twilight zone!
….To Be Continued
Jamie Bonnette, Founder & Owner
Found In Translation, LLC