Living in a smaller city in Spain comes with the reality of not being able to rely solely on English like I could in bigger cities such as Madrid or Barcelona. Despite having a bachelor’s degree in Spanish (like, how though?), adjusting to the Andalusian accent is a challenge in itself. Imagine a person whose second language is English trying to understand someone with a heavy Southern drawl–and welcome to my everyday life in Sevilla. It doesn’t help that in high school and college we are majorly taught Latin American Spanish–a dialect that differs greatly from Spanish in Spain, and especially from Spanish in Andalusia, where often times letters are dropped and words bleed together like wet ink.
Which brings me to the daily struggle of completing necessary tasks but completing them in a language I don’t fully have a grasp on yet–a sometimes entertaining but mostly frustrating feat. Living with a Spanish family has helped a lot, especially with a three-year-old who speaks simply enough for me to actually comprehend, although conversations with the housekeeper who doesn’t speak a word of English usually amount to a lot of wild hand gestures and charades. However, in a city such as Sevilla, I cannot get by on my impressive miming skills alone, which has resulted in a small but quickly growing collection of laughable moments.
Getting the Screen of my iPhone Repaired
After two and a half years of continuously dropping my phone and getting away scot-free with no scratches whatsoever, I managed to let it slip from my hands as I opened the gate to my apartment building, subsequently leading to it shattering into a billion little pieces. After an internal cry of defeat (complete with arms raised to the sky to the merciless Dios), I headed directly to the phone repair shop and pathetically presented my phone to the woman behind the counter. Now normally, the conversation may go like this:
“Hi, I broke the screen on my iPhone. Can you fix it?”
“Sure, that will cost you an entire month’s pay and a body part of your choosing. Come pick it up tomorrow.”
“Great, see you then.”
Now, things may have gone smoothly if the store I had entered was readily prepared to fix my screen, like the second place I ended up visiting. But there was a problem, so the conversation went more along the lines of this (translated for your benefit and mine):
“Hi, I broke the screen on my iPhone. Can you fix it?”
“Sure, but [rapidly spoken Andalusian Spanish that didn’t sound like a resounding yes but also didn’t sound like a definite no, and concluded with an expectant smile from the woman that suggested I should respond in some sort of reactionary fashion].”
“Okay, great, thanks for your help.”
[Cue awkward and abrupt exit because I clearly wasn’t equipped to deal with any sort of response extending beyond yes or no]
I ended up going to a low-key sketchy China (labeled so because of the racial makeup of the owners of these stores–I guess the racism of this is lost on the Spanish people) upon Mar’s advice and they were able to fix it for half the price, and all I had to do was pull my disaster of a phone out my bag. So, shoutout to T-Chong for the quick and easy fix without me having to embarrass myself too badly.
Fixing the Straps of my Backpack
Unsurprisingly, the black “leather” backpack I bought for 12€ from a street stand last year while studying abroad finally succumbed to the weight of my various NY Times bestsellers, and now looks like an sad two-armed octopus (is that too obscure of an analogy? It’s late and I had a baby spit up on me tonight). I asked Mar for some super glue (to my surprise and delight, the word for super glue is the same in both languages), but she insisted I take it to a cobbler instead. After wandering in the general direction of where she told me the cobbler was, I fell upon a small store (if you could call it that–there wasn’t even enough room for me and Natalia’s stroller inside), that looked more like a closet full of bags and shoes where a man had squeezed a counter and cash register. After what I thought to be a pretty coherent conversation where I insisted I needed the bag by tomorrow at 6:30pm for my upcoming trip to Paris, the man handed me a pink slip and sent me on my way.
The next day at 6:30pm, I returned once again with Natalia in tow, and presented my pink slip to a different man inside the closet. After searching for what seemed to be a strangely long time given the size of the store, the man returned with my backpack straps still dangling like a sad two-armed octopus (I decided the analogy was fitting). The man proceeded to tell me it isn’t ready yet.
Yeah, no shit.
He then told me to return at 8:30, but no puedo regresar a las 8:30, which is why I very specifically requested 6:30pm the previous day. He gave me a shrug, looking like he wanted to tell me something else but also like he was ready to get this goddamn American out of his closet-shop, so, defeated, I took my still-broken bag and returned home.
Ever the angel, when I told Mar about my encounter with the cobbler, she offered to take my bag back to the shop and talk to them herself (apparently, she is pals with the storeowner there or something. I didn’t ask for more background information than this). She returned looking like she just had a hearty laugh, and tells me that “The man at the store didn’t know how to tell you that the machine–” and she pauses here, whether for dramatic effect or because she is searching for the right phrase in English– “Is fucked up.”
Well, that’ll do it.
Ordering a Taxi
To be fair, I have never ordered a taxi in the United States either, but I am assuming it is much easier when both parties can completely understand each other. Like I mentioned earlier, I was leaving for Paris, and our flight was bright-and-early at 6:30am, before the buses started running. So, I downloaded the MyTaxi app and ordered a cab for 4:45am (kill me). The app makes you contact the driver to confirm, so I sent him a text message (instead of calling because #socialanxiety) that went a little like this (once again translated for your benefit and mine):
Me: Hi, can you pick me up at 4:45 from my apartment? We need to get my friend from Torre de Oro and then go to the airport. Thank you.
José Luis: Yes, of course. I will be at your apartment at 4:45.
Seems pretty straightforward, right? Wrong, apparently, because at 4:20am as I was just beginning to make myself look like I didn’t get only 3 hours of sleep I get a call from José Luis saying that he was here.
The next two painful minutes consisted of me trying to explain to JL that I told him 4:45am and that he needs to come back in 20 minutes because I am nowhere near ready–all while attempting to keep quiet so as to not wake anyone sleeping in the house–and ended with him giving me an annoyed vale, pues en veinte minutos, and hanging up the phone. Luckily he didn’t drive off and abandon me to deal with another cabdriver, but I still don’t know to this day what the miscommunication was. He did passive aggressively ask me if it was my first time using the app and then graciously overcharged me, though. But hey, we caught our plane!
I realize as I write this that these are basically just stories about how I suck at Spanish, so hopefully everything will improve as I spend more time in this lovely country and communicate with the natives. At least it was nowhere near as terrible as trying to get people to understand me in France, where the only French words I know were bonjour, merci, and fromage (which I may argue is the most important word to know). However, I have made it this far, and I am improving every day (partially thanks to the Spanish speaking toys that the kids play with. I can now sing Twinkle Twinkle Little Star in English AND Spanish. Résumé builder). Wish me luck!