On Speaking Spanish in a Spanish Land

I don’t speak Spanish.

Never has this fact been more clear to me than when I moved to my current neighborhood. I was buying groceries the other day, and as I loaded my things on the belt, the cashier started speaking to me in Spanish.

“Hola! Como estás?” she asked.

“Um…bien,” I replied hesitantly.

This opened up a can of worms. Or rather, a can of rapid fire Spanish. I froze.

I flashed back to a conversation I had in the hallway of my undergrad university almost two years before. I was taking eight weeks of concentrated Spanish because the university had mandated I review from the four years I had taken the language in high school. I was angry about it at the time; I didn’t feel like I needed the review.

“Tienes un oído para español,” my professor told me after we finished our midterm conversation in her office.

You have an ear for Spanish.

“Graciás. Me gusta aprender.”

Thanks. I like to learn.

“Su alta escuela español ha llegado de nuevo a tú. Qué vas a hacer con tu español? Por qué estás en mi clase?”

Your high school Spanish is coming back to you. What are you going to do with your Spanish? Why are you in my class?

“Necesito dos años para estudios de posgrado.”

I need two years for graduate school.

“Tú podrías ir más lejos en ella si quería.”

You could go further in it if you wanted to.

“Lo haría si tuviera tiempo.”

I would if I had time.

There is never enough time.

I didn’t have to think about the Spanish then. It just came naturally.

I came back to the present and the cashier was staring at me. What had she said? I understood her just fine. She had asked how far I had to walk. Whether I wanted the plastic bags doubled so they’d be easier to get home. There were at least a hundred things I could say floating just on the tip of my tongue, Spanish words just within reach that I couldn’t quite shape. I could communicate. If only I could make myself do it, say the words.

But if I said the wrong thing?

This is not my home, not my environment. Not my comfort zone. I am overthinking; I am taking to much time to reply.

What if I said the wrong thing?

“No hablo español,” I muttered quietly, pulling my debit card from my wallet and swiping it in the machine.

The cashier shrugged and doubled my bags without my asking before handing them to me and thanking me for coming.

I walked out of the store, two bags in each hand. Silent.

I don’t speak Spanish. I don’t speak Spanish, but I could if I could just be unafraid.

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One thought on “On Speaking Spanish in a Spanish Land

  1. I love this little nugget. A big lesson from a small encounter.
    Your flash prose is just the kind of writing that we look for over at the yeah write community. Our weekly nonfiction challenge is open for submissions until Wednesday at 10 pm. I hope you’ll stop by to check out our friendly competition and to consider entering this story.

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