Learning a Language for Love

Ven, gorda, que te voy a dar un beso. Enrique held his arms outstretched as I let the words slowly formulate a sentence in English in my head.

When they did, I pivoted and strode into the bedroom, pouting as I sat on his unmade bed. Masked between a coax and the promise of a kiss, my new boyfriend had just called me fat.

When Enrique and I had met several months before, I was having a friend over for dinner at my flat. The smell of burnt tortilla de patata – and the smoke that accompanies it – wafted through my small place as I rushed to pick up a roommates’ notes and textbooks, cursing myself for deeming Arrested Development more important than cleaning. As I used a wet rag to dissipate the smoke, a buzz came from the telefonillo.

“Um, hey, hola,” I said clumsily into the speaker. The voice that came from the other end was masculine, not that of the other girl I’d invited.

Kike knocked on the door twenty seconds later, wielding a bottle of whiskey and a half-drank bottle of Coke. “This is for the party,” he quipped.

As we ate burnt tortilla, potato chips, cured meats and cheese that night, I marveled at how he could partake in conversations with me in English, my Spanish roommate in his native tongue and German with my other roommate.

“Yeah, I’m also learning Arabic,” he told me later that night.

Over the next few months, our bilingual texting and tapas grew more serious. I learned pillow talk in Spanish and corrected his preposition use in English, confessing to him that I didn’t think I’d ever get a good handle on castellano or even start learning a third.

Don’t word, guapa, practice is the one thing that makes a tongue perfect, he said in his smooth Spanish. Leaning in close, I kissed him hard. Pulling away, he laughed. “No, no, no,” he said in between belly laughs, “I mean that practicing speaking Spanish will help you improve!” The word  lengua means both tongue in your mouth and tongue that you speak.

Was it any surprise that the first time he told me he loved me, he did it in English so that I wouldn’t get confused? Those three little words were shouted over the pumping music of a discoteca, but I got the message loud and clear.

I often ask my students why they’re studying English. Most say to be able to travel and communicate, or to have better job prospects. In coming to Spain, I would have answered the same. But after falling for a Spaniard, it was clear: I would learn a language for love.

After fuming over the gorda comment, I finally got tough and confronted him. Um…tú eresmuy mean. He laughed and between breaths said, “This laugh? It’s called a carcajada!”

Always quick to point out a new word.

When he calmed down, he explained that gorda was a pet term that people give to one another often, the same as feo (ugly), rey (king) and pequeño (small one). I had a lot of studying to do.

As our relationship has evolved, so have my tastes for Spanish food, the destinations on my Been There list and the number of experiences we’ve been able to share together – often in two languages. His handle of English and willingness to learn more has allowed him to entertain my best friend while I had strep throat during her visit, understand both football and baseball and say hello to my parents on Skype each weekend.

At an American’s friend’s wedding to her Spanish mate last year, she read her vows in Spanish for his family to hear; he did the same in English for hers. I was too busy wiping my tears away as gracefully as possible to remember exactly what he said, but it was to the effect of, being in a bilingual relationship means giving you twice as much of everything: friends, foods to try, vocabulary to say “I’m sorry,” holidays to celebrate together and laughing at the other’s language blunders.

Nearly five years later, Kike and I are now in a unilingual relationship: Castilian Spanish is the only language that we ever speak to one another. I love you is te quiero, kiss has become besito and baja la basura de una vez is as common for him to say as jó, haz la cama de una vez is for me.

Our one exception? Our pet name for one another is no longer in Spanish.

Has learning another language helped you to travel? Fall in love? Get a promotion or pay raise? Sound off in the comments!

 

Writer’s note: Sending lots of abrazos for those of you who gave my page a like, both on Facebook and through the competition page. Sadly, tons of great writing went unnoticed when Kaplan International, the sponsor of the contest, decided to make the spamming more important than content. While I ended up with over 200 likes and within the Top Ten, there were posts with 6,000 likes that had little to do with what the contest asked. Reagrdless, you guys mean the world to me, and I greatly appreciate your shares and great feedback, and I likely wouldn’t keep blogging like a maniac between a new job and a master’s program if it weren’t for you guys. Mil gracias!!

 

The One Where the Novio Carved a Pumpkin

When I made my little trip to Spain four years ago, I was determined to do what any expat does – immerse myself in the culture. Eat, breath and sleep flamenco, siestas and tapas.

Then I realized I am just too American for that. Who says you can’t live in Spain and have your hot dog-flavored cake, and eat it, too?

I don’t necessarily have to redeem myself when it comes to exhibiting my Americanism with pride with the Novio, as he is ten times more Spanish than I am guiri. He eats, breathes, sleeps cerveza, Betis and juerga. But one really beautiful part of a bilingual, bicultural relationship is being able to share another culture with someone. Had I not met Kike, there’s a lot that would remain a mystery to me, and a lot of places I would never know.

So, in my opinion, it’s only natural I’d try to do the same. since Halloween is my second favorite holiday, second only to Fourth of July (for the beer and fireworks, not the patriotism!), and this is the first time he’s actually been in Seville for Halloween since we met, it was high time I taught him about All Hallow’s Eve.

Turns out, he’s too Spanish for his own good.

My friend Kelly hosts a pumpkin carving party yearly, but I missed out this year to go to Madrid. Last Tuesday, I finished work and, feeling in the spirit of Halloween on the first cold and blustery day of the Fall, went to Lidl to buy spider webs for my classroom and a pumpkin for the Novio and I. Lidl is the German equivalent of Aldi - mega cheap, charges you for bags like most places in Spain, has carts of random crap in the aisles. But Aldi has a rotating international week, meaning I can get cranberry juice and marshmallows during American week, Croque Monsseiur during semaine francaise, and beer brats and Haribo gummis any given. In the weeks leading up to Halloween, witches hats and packaged candy fangs adorn the aisle displays next to the register. I snagged the last two pumpkins, paid for two bags and took them home.

Since the pumpkins came with stickered-on faces, The Novio perched them on the mantle above the TV, laughing in a spooky voice. “Sunday,” I announced, “¡Al ataque!”

The weekend drew to a close and I dropped Hayley off at the taxi stand and went to make chicken stock and wait for Kike to come home from having lunch with friends. Three hours later, he arrives home. I told him I wanted to do Halloween stuff, like carve our pumpkins. He walked into the kitchen, took out a knife, and I had to lunge forward and yell NOOOOOOOOOOO, because he assumed I wanted him to cut it up so we could make a crema, a type of thick soup, out of it. He asked the purpose of carving it before All Hallow’s Eve, as today is merely the 30th.

I told him I was giving up, not really willing to fight about a tradition he knows very little about. Venga, he coaxed, we’re already doing Halloween things! He made a scary face and tried to pop out at me from behind the open fridge door. I took out the carving knife and commenced slicing off the head of his pumpkin, scooping out the goopy innards and placing them in a glass bowl.

As I tried to peel off the sticker, the Novio protested, saying he didn’t know how to make a scary face. I gave up. He did, too.

Replacing the top, he snickered and put the jack o’lantern back on the mantle. Within ten minutes, the time it took for me to carve my pumpkin and place the seeds pn a baking sheet, he was out cold.

There’s always Thanksgiving, Novio. Who doesn’t like a holiday based around food and sports?

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