When my travel bag finally arrived, I was horrified to see that I had forgotten to pack my Spanish phrasebook.
I do understand quite a bit of Spanish when it is written down, having studied French (and even Latin) in the past, but I am woefully incapable of forming proper sentences which contain important elements like verbs and adjectives. GCSE Spanish, taken ‘for fun’ during my first year of A-Levels, is no more than a dim, distant memory and subsequent trips to Italy have muddied the waters somewhat. Even if I did manage to formulate a question successfully, there was no guarantee that I would understand a word of the reply.
Minus phrasebook, if I saw, for example, a cake in a bakery window and didn’t know what it was called but wanted to eat it (which occurred once approximately every 500 m) but didn’t think I’d be able to see it from the till – let alone point at it – I had to renounce any hope of eating it altogether. My thighs are probably grateful for this enforced restraint, but I found the whole experience very frustrating indeed.
I pride myself on my ‘almost Frenchness’ as I go about my daily business in Paris. I panted through my ante-natal classes in French, not to mention swearing loudly and colourfully at Mr Frog and the angelic midwife throughout the labour itself. I like to consider myself a world apart from the tourists I see every day speaking English loudly and slowly to shop assistants in the Opéra district where I work, giving them disdainful, superior looks and thinking to myself how rude they are not to make more of an effort to speak a few words of French, rather than assuming everyone here speaks some English.
In Spain, however, I became precisely that tourist I had previously despised, just about managing a “habla ingles o frances, por favor?”, blushing all the while, and then lapsing into slow, carefully enunciated, extra-loud English. I might as well have been dressed in bermuda shorts (shiver: it was sunny but very cold) with a large camera dangling from my neck.
I promise I will never give a poor, wretched tourist a superior look ever again (well, at least until next week). Maybe they all simply forgot to pack their phrasebooks, so who am I to pass judgement without being in possession of the facts?
Luckily we had a part-time guide in Madrid, a friend and former colleague of Mr Frog’s, and he taught us everything we needed to know:
una caña por favor
Repeat to fade.