Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Je Suis le Americain Laid

So, I am going to Barcelona after all! I'm so excited about seeing something that was built by Antoni Gaudi. I realized that I was going to be incredibly disappointed if I didn't get there. Plus, if I can speak any other language than English, it's Spanish, though I'm sure what I'll be speaking is random words I remember from my high school classes. The other day, I tried to say 'This is my sister' in Spanish and what I ended up saying was 'This is my beautiful' instead. Hermosa, hermana. You can see my difficulty. She'll probably like it when I make that mistake though, don't you think?

I have to tell you this language thing has been strange for the past week or so.

First, I was going to meet my sister and niece for a trip to Spain. So, I began to brush up on my Spanish. For that, I folded clothes while watching Spanish television. I can tell you that I understand about every seventh word during a Spanish talk show. There's no context to what they're saying and by the time I grasped even a single word because they displayed a clip from a soap opera that showed a little meaning, they were on to the next subject. Commercials were better. At least they were talking about something concrete, though I doubt I'll have to talk about exterminating bugs or getting car insurance when I get to Barcelona. The other thing I've been doing is reading my bilingual book of Pablo Neruda's poetry. Ode to Socks. Really, I love that man. The nice thing about reading poetry is that it's generally translated line by line and I don't have to look a lot of stuff up.

But all that came to a screeching halt when my niece made the list of all the places she wanted to go once I arrived - Spain, Italy, France, Germany, and Switzerland. All in her two weeks? I wasn't going to have time for Spain. It made more sense for me to meet them in Germany since my sister said the only place she really needed to see was where our great, great - I don't know how many greats - grandfather was the burgermeister. That would be very cool. Will we look like the people there? Will we feel at home? One of those old forefather guys was a wine tester to the Kaiser. Will I like the wine from that region? Probably. Who wouldn't?

The logical thing for me to do, then, was to travel to Germany and meet my sister and my niece at the Rhine river. My only problem with that plan, the one where they circle around to all these lovely places without me and meet me in Germany at the border with France, was that I can only say 'no' and 'thank' you in German. I can't even say 'Hello, my name is ..' when I meet someone. From something long ago, I remember 'Vo ist das ..' or 'Where is the ...' That might get me to a bathroom if I look up that word in a dictionary that I don't yet have. It doesn't get me very far. Not very comforting either.

But, it turns out that it will work better with my sister and niece's busy schedules if I meet them in Barcelona. After flying all night, I'll spend a blurry day looking at Gaudi and the next day, we'll head off to Germany to drink to our heritage. After that, Switzerland, and if there's time, we'll fly to Florence. All in the span of eight days? I can't tell you how much I'd love to go to Florence to see the statue of David, but I'm hoping they squeeze that part in after they tour the South of Spain before I get there. The languages alone have me spinning. Thankfully, I don't have to look anything up in a Swiss language. My sister informed me of that. Yes, I am that ugly American that didn't quite realize that Switzerland is divided between German- and French-speaking people.

I wish I had a t-shirt that says, 'Je suis le Americain laid.' I am the ugly American. Would the French people think that's funny? I don't know. I just hate that it will probably be true. I laugh too loudly too. I will be a spectacle, I'm sure of it.

As for trying to learn French, I'm reading French right now too. At a second-hand store, I found a copy of the New Testament and, having numbered verses, I can see line by line what the translation is. 'Le angle du Dieu dit: ...' And I'm probably mangling that too. But I might be able to bless someone in French by the time I go there. Maybe that will help.

It would be way easier to study just one language before this trip. Way easier. I picture myself getting to France, whose language I can't even hear in my head when I read it, and I could be mixing French and Spanish in an attempt to get it right. Plus, I'll speak French in a bad Spanish accent, or worse, end up saying 'uh, uh, uh...' Oh, this is going to be mortifying, no doubt.

Then, I wonder if I need to bring a German and Italian dictionary with me in addition to the French and Spanish ones I'm planning to carry. That reminds me. My high school Spanish dictionary is huge, brittle, broken into two pieces, and rubbed away on one corner. I'll have to get another one for this trip. That would be four books if I come prepared. Really?

By the time I get there, I'll need to be blessed in French, Spanish, or any language for that matter.

Thank you for listening, jb

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