Let me start by saying that I studied French throughout high school, and then for a couple more years in college. And, let’s just say that it didn’t go as well as I’d hoped.
Oh, I can speak French and read it alright. I am just not able to do it around French people. Ya see, when I went to Paris (more than a decade ago) and spoke it for the first time to a French woman at an information booth in the subway, she sneered at me with an “Oh, really? You’re going to speak my language?” look in her eyes. Not only that, but she didn’t answer my question or provide me with any assistance. At all. She just continued to sneer silently at me. Not exactly the kind of “information” I was in need of at the time.
(In the French countryside, I did not encounter this attitude, but I still tended to keep my mouth shut unless I was hungry and, therefore, ordering a meal.)
Flash forward to my life as I know it today.
In the office where I work, there is a Hispanic man who shuttles around a giant garbage can all day long, on his stops between kitchens and bathrooms. For months, I’ve been greeting him hello or waving at him down the hall. He has done the same. Recently, however, he began to test me. He started sneaking “hola” into his greeting. Since I figure that’s a pretty easy one, I now say “hola” to him instead of “hello.”
However, this morning, he added to it. “Hola. ¿Cómo estás?” Oh, good. Another easy one. “Está bien,” I answered. So far, so good. He even offered a huge, encouraging smile to me when I said it, commending me for my effort to communicate in a language other than my own. Now I’m thinking that he will probably begin adding even more words and phrases en español into our hallway conversations as the weeks pass. If he’d only stick to the topic of Mexican food items, I’d probably be okay for a while… however, I’m thinking I’ll need to be a little more adventurous than that. And, anyway, I like the idea of redeeming my international relationship-building skills.
Thank goodness most of the people I know took Spanish in high school, so I can use them as a reference… and that the Internet makes cross-cultural relationships so much easier today. A simple click to a translation page is so much nicer than, for instance, tiptoeing my way up to a wayward Parisian information booth attendant.