9.1 Lost in Translation

I've taken nine years of spanish classes. Nine. That means for almost half my life I have been formally learning this language and although I can translate just about any road sign and get the gist of most of the articles in the newspaper actually speaking Spanish is ... well I wouldn't even classify what I've been doing this first week here as speaking. When I ask people what time it is (which is probably like the 3rd thing you learn in a foreign language course after "my name is..." and "where is the bathroom?") people look at me like I'm speaking klingon.

As a person who is incredibly sensitive I can't tell the difference between looks of incomprehension or dislike. So I am convinced that everyone that works at our hostel, Limehouse, hates me. And they probably do because of things like this:

Today while Eli was in the shower I left our room to get something at the corner store only to realize I left my wallet in my room. And our room key. So when I turned around to grab them, and turned the handle on our door and felt the door stiff against the pressure I ran to the front desk in a panic
me: Me deja en mi sala!!
her: que?
What I think I just told her:
I locked myself out of my room!
What I really just told her
: I locked myself inside of my room!
Clearly I am not locked inside my room unless I am having an out of body experience and my soul is at the front desk of the hostel to inform her that my body is locked inside of the room.
so i adjust ...
me: Dejo los llaves en mi sala!!
her: que?
What I think I just told her: I locked the keys in my room!
What I really just told her: I locked the keys in my room!
okay what's the problem this time? I know this is right.
her: que? what?
me: que? what?
her: como dejas la puerta? How did you lock the door?
me: que? what?
her: no es posible. That's not possible.
and so I go to the door and discover that I didn't push on the door hard enough. Because the door doesn't lock behind you, you need the key to do that. So not only can I not speak the language I also don't understand the concept of a lock-and-key!

Archeologists know that the key to unlocking a culture is language. That's why the rosetta stone is such a big deal, that's why the eskimo's have 100 words for snow. It's hard being here and barely having the words to get by, much less the ones to express myself. I feel locked out in more ways than one.


  1. ca, c'est la raison que je parle francais. (this, this is the reason that i speak french.) --although french is probably just as tough, n'est-ce pas?... you were in my dream last night and i miss you sooo much! what i wouldn't give for a 2 hour phone call...

  2. i know exactly how you feel about the language frustration! I lived in Spain for 3 months with a Spanish family and I'm pretty sure I didn't make sense for at least a month and a half. But don't worry! If you keep trying, one day you'll rattle off whole sentences that actually make sense without thinking twice about it!

  3. I JUST blogged about this exact feeling! (One which took up about half of all my days in France, leaving me at times overwhelmed and out-of-body.) I know, it's strange and unsteady and really really frustrating at first.

    Sometimes all I could do was laugh and laugh and think "How strange is this life?"

    But eventually you make a home in it--the silences where you try and understand each other start to feel like sharing secrets. Je promis.


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