Watch your language… Watch your language… Watch your language…
On the Tip of My Tongue
How do you say “No hablo Español” in cruiser?
My high-school Spanish class didn’t really focus on the vocabulary a girl needs to adequately prepare herself for international travel. I don’t recall any teacher drilling us on how to say things like “Can I try on the hot-pink leather jacket?” And so I’m here at a fabulous boutique in Barcelona playing what feels like charades with the shop clerk.
You’d think with a last name like “Cuervo,” I’d be able to swing seamlessly from the English language to Spanish. Alas, that’s not the case. My father, a Spaniard, believed English was the only language that mattered in America — admirable, perhaps, until you’re in Barcelona and really, really want that hot-pink leather jacket.
Aboard my ship, one that caters to an international clientele, announcements are made in five languages, something that tells us unilingual Americans that we shouldn’t expect to hear our native tongue widely spoken in our European ports of call. Italian. French. English. Spanish. German. And let me tell you: It’s astonishing how long it takes to say “The ship has been cleared and guests may disembark” in German. I’m surprised the Germans didn’t miss Barcelona entirely.
Still, the sad truth is that even when I can string words of another language together, I seem to fail dismally. I remember arriving in Dubrovnik for the first time. A long relationship with a Croatian has left me with more knowledge of Croatia, its people, food, and language than I will ever need. I disembarked, approached a guy on the pier and confidently asked “Zao me je. Gdje je Stari Grad, molim vas?” He looked mildly amused before responding in Croatian-accented English “You go straight up that way and make a left.”
Sometimes even a shared language doesn’t guarantee successful communication. Have you ever heard a rapidly speaking Scot? And what’s with the English giving completely different meanings to familiar words? When I’m “pissed,” I’m annoyed, not drunk. You’re not even safe in the Caribbean. I remember a Bajan beach attendant cheerfully explaining just where I needed to go to ride the banana boat. (I was so sorry I’d asked.)
But today, it’s all about the hot-pink leather jacket. I concentrate and, from the deep recesses of my brain, unearth words from my high-school Spanish class. “Chaqueta de cuero,” I struggle. “Rosa… caliente!” The clerk smiles and retrieves the jacket from the shop window. It fits. It’s perfect. It’s mine.
— Judi Cuervo