Art Factory Hostel Blog

Language Lessons

Although I had four years of Spanish in high school — and was considered by my teacher the finest student he’d ever had — that was a long time ago. I’ve forgotten a lot. My little brass-plated medal doesn’t mean that much so many years later.

Still, I have had no trouble ordering basic food in restaurants and understanding how much I’m being charged in shops. (The tendency for some porteños to drop the final “s” on some words has thrown me a few times, however; not to mention the regional preference for pronouncing the double l as “zh” instead of “yh.”)

It’s a basic terror of travel: Not understanding or not being able to make oneself understood. Given my own peculiar strain of social avoidance anxiety, I suffer from that terror, probably, more than most. But, I think I turned a corner today, and the brief Spanish lesson that Art Factory provided yesterday increased my confidence. I understood about 80% of what the instructor spoke.

So when I went to buy replacement shoelaces for my big black boots (There were several knots in the left boot’s, attempting to keep the laces together or one more day) I spoke entirely in Spanish, except for not knowing how to say “holes.”

“Quisiera comprar los cardones,” I said confidently.

“Que color?” he asked.

“Negro, por favor.”

Then I added, “Doce, uh,” then lifted up one foot and pointed to my big black boots to show him how many holes, what length I wanted.

The genial older man behind the shoe counter, which was tucked in the back of a typical kiosco in San Telmo and not visible from the street, smiled and gave me what I wanted. Probably amused as much at my attempt at commercial Spanish as at anything else.

Nevertheless, I felt good about it, and then went to a supermercado to buy my first sack of groceries to cook my first meal in the hostel.

Argentines make it much easier to speak Spanish than Czechs ever made to speak Czech. They’re pleased. In general, Czech were contemptuous, as they are about so many things regarding foreigners.

I’ve been saying it to myself a lot lately, but I felt it again as I sat in the sun on the terrace outside my dorm room, drank a beer and slurped up fettucine and salsa:

I think I could really live here.

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