A lot of responsibility comes with being a tourist in another country. In some senses, as an American traveler, there are some casual ambassador duties. At the risk of being just another “obnoxious American”, I take every step imaginable to fit in in my surroundings, and pay attention to the customs and traditions of whatever foreign land I’m exploring.That said, on my recent travels to Spain, I tried my best to conjure my one time expertise in the Spanish language. And by expertise, I of course mean five years of high school Spanish taken, at most recent, seventeen years ago. At the very least, I wanted to be sure I made an effort. Nothing irks me more than witnessing Americans demanding they be spoken to in English in lands where English is not the first language and being incredulous when they aren’t treated all that well. That wouldn’t be me.
My Spanish was passable, but barely, in Madrid, where Spanish is spoken everywhere, but where English is common as well. But in Barcelona, Spanish is not the primary language. They speak Catalan there, a hybrid of sorts between Spanish and French. My knowledge of French being nil, and my expertise in Spanish being modest at best, Catalan was just not going to work. I was fortunate enough to check in to Le Meridien Barcelona with a kind, English speaking gentleman from Monaco. When we arrived in our room and noticed the two twin beds and cared to change it, I thought I’d go down and have my hand at Spanish.
I approached the same individual who had just checked us in and, to the best of my ability, explained in Spanish, why the existing bedding was not optimal for us. He looked at me somewhat blankly and said dead-pan, “You speak English, right?”
“Yes,” I said, coyly knowing we just finished an English conversation not five minutes earlier.
“It’s better you speak English.”
And that, I declare, was the finest thing anyone had said to me on vacation. I tried. But between my broken Spanish, and his broken Spanish (not a native Spanish speaker in Monaco), there was no way I was going to get my twin bed problem resolved – or at least not quickly.