I had never been the catalyst of a Spanish laugh that wasn’t followed with a diagnosis of “That’s funny” and a sigh.
Most lunches in my residencia, I plop down uninvited in an empty seat at one of the Spaniard-dominated tables and try to seem cute, pleasant, and sanitary enough for the public to want to engage with me.
This is a ruse. I don’t have a lot to offer conversation-wise, what since I sometimes misconjugate and ask where I’m from instead of where my Spanish victim is from.
I managed to keep it together long enough to small talk Thursday’s lunch friend. Conversations I often think of as polite, obligatory, shallow, and forgettable — Where are you from? What do you study? — exhaust my Spanish and keep me treading water to avoid sinking.
Our conversation progressed to how friendly and cheap Granada is in comparison to other Spanish cities.
“Right,” I said in totally passable Spanish without having to pause not even once. “And I always forget restaurants here give you a free tapa when you order a drink. It’s like a gift each time.”
I paused. Disbelief. Distrust. Sedated fear. Hope.
She chuckled. “Un regalo.”
“Es correcto, ¿no?” I asked.
“Sí, sí,” she said, loading her spoon with a brothy potato chunk. “It’s funny to say ‘regalo’ en este contexto.”
I don’t know past or future Spanish verb tenses so Spain is all about living in the moment for me.
— Emily Donovan (@emdons) February 9, 2015
I had never-not-once-ever studied Spanish before arriving in Spain in February to study abroad. I would describe living in this degree of ignorance best as being the ill-equipped protagonist in a cruel farce.
Two weeks ago, I tried to go to the special bank to pay for my new gym membership. The lady was so impatient and spoke so fast that I got up from her cubicle desk and walked out of the building in metronomic steps. Like lunchtime beer, crying in public is not a study abroad indulgence I see as a worthy investment.
I am, with so-uncommon-there-are-no-other-known-specimens-living-in-the-wild exceptions, neither smart nor funny in Spanish.
In class yesterday, I squinted at the characters laughing on-screen during a movie and asked qué pasó after each scene as if I were annotating the screenplay.
Last night, a drunk dude walking home tried to start a conversation with me from across the street. He was excited and slurred and seemed to waiting for me to respond to a question.
I finger gunned.
It’s a work in progress. But there are — even if rare — signs of progress.