Perhaps it’s the 24 hours of flying and acute sleep deprivation talking but it is a rather strange sensation to be alone in a totally (well not totally) foreign place. I have this belief that I should do my utmost to blend in with my surrounds, to not look like an out of towner. This is difficult in Barcelona because I lack the suaveness and confidence that seems to come so naturally to Spaniards and I can only manage some pretty droopy pidgin Spanish, despite having studied Spanish for three years at Uni. Nevertheless, I spent my first five hours walking up and down Las Ramblas trying my very hardest to look as Spanish as I could.
But alas my visage was instantly ripped apart when I walked into a bookshop and asked if they had The Age of Reason by Jean-Paul Sartre. First, I committed the cardinal error that any wannabe member of the intelligentsia can commit: I mispronounced Sartre and, in turn, my attempt at suaveness dissolved like a lump of sugar under boiling water. After the bookshop owner repeated my question to himself, pointedly pronouncing Sartre’s name correctly he started speaking in Spanish to me. This resulted in the other stilt of my visage of Spanishness being hewn in twain.
As mentioned above I speak pretty third-rate Spanish. This involves me talking about every situation in the present tense and stirring in a bit of Italian and Spanglish, I also mix up basic verbs. The result is a confused linguistic alloy. A typical sentence I might blend together in my mind and puke into public is this: ‘A lo major vuelvo y tocar (correct verb would be tomar) vino y café barato’ which translates as follows: ‘Maybe tomorrow I return and touch cheap wine and coffee’. So remove possessive pronouns such as ‘your’ and any concept of the future or past tense (don’t even mention present progressive or the subjunctive) and you have a basic idea of how my Spanish sounds. But I digress, back to the bookstore owner.
He started speaking back to me in native Spanish (i.e. fast Spanish). My confidence crumbled, I lost track of what he was saying. All that was left for me to venture was ‘tienen el libro en ingles?’ (do you have the book in English?). So there I was, asking for an English translation of a French book in a Spanish bookstore in my own jerry rigged language. How unsuave how unspanish how… out of place I must have looked.