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...two travellers in search of the world's wildlife

8 July 2011

Habla español?

5th July 2011

The oddest thing happened today. A waitress in a cafe took a look at us, decided we were probably English speakers, and asked “what would you like to drink?”

Everywhere else in the world I’ve been on holiday this has been fairly normal: from Paris to Pokhara it is apparently easy for savvy servants of the tourist dollar to spot an Englishman and drag into service their transaction-only English phrases to ask me what I want. Even if they’re not actually spotting my Englishness, they’re spotting my tourist-ish-ness and of course English is the world’s lingua franca. So to speak.

But in South America the working assumption almost everywhere is that you must have learned some Spanish before coming here. Today in Valpa we’ve been addressed three times in English and that stood out so obviously that I really had to think back to find the last place that happened even once.

And the thing is, most visitors do habla Espanol. Most every tourist or traveller we’ve come upon in Chile, Peru and Bolivia has some grasp of Spanish, usually a lot better than our slooowly developing efforts. Even our guidebook reflects this. Most guidebooks to other countries include a note along the lines of “the local people will really appreciate it if you try and learn a few phrases of Nepali/Malagasy/Setswana/whatever.” In contrast, our guidebook here says “without some knowledge of Spanish you will become very frustrated in many situations.”

They’re not joking! And I’m very grateful for Maureen for deciding back in the months before we set off that she would take a good crack at learning some español. I suppose it is probably a combination of factors. Firstly, the entire continent (Brazil excepted) speaks Spanish. Secondly, these countries are probably more destinations for young travellers than traditional family holiday-makers and of course travellers generally make more effort to learn languages. Thirdly, it must be said that Spanish is an easier language to pick up than English, and a helluva lot easier than anything Asian (Indonesian excepted).

Anyway, hablamos español un poquito ahora, and it’s very lucky that we do!

2 Responses to “Habla español?”

  1. Dave says:

    No they are spotting your Englishness, I admire your adherence to bowler hat, brollie and spatz throughout your trip though, keeping the flag flying for the old empire what what. Lovely photo’s here by the way, the pop art bassets are great.

    • shortclaws says:

      There was fun graffiti around every corner in Valpa. The funny thing is, there was a little cluster of streets described as the ‘Museo de Cielo Abierto’ (Museum of the Open Sky) where the wall space was reserved for murals commissioned from specific artists or something. The irony being that as far as I could see, all the murals in the Museo were absolute crap and the graffiti elsewhere in the city was immensely better. Interpret as you like.

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