Wednesday, May 11, 2011

I Stand Corrected

I have a thing for grammar.  For the English language in general.  I love words.  I love combinations of words, and great writing, and detailed storytelling.  With creativity and the conventions of modern English, we produce tales of great beauty or terror, happiness or depression, mystery, rights-of-passage, fantasy, or even, say, the travel experiences of an oftentimes clueless American girl in a foreign land.  
In the midst of the Great Hack Attack of 2011, when many of my friends and family received emails and Facebook messages from “me” claiming “I” had been mugged in London and needed a questionable amount of money to get “home,” I had quite a few people tell me the way they knew it could not have been me: the spelling and grammar were less than stellar.  It overjoyed me to hear that my friends and family were sure that, even under duress and in a state of panic, I would adhere to the correct rules of our written language.  You guys know me so well.  
So by knowing this little quirky (nerdy) factoid about me, it may not be difficult to extrapolate that, at times in my life, I have had the tendency to correct people when they speak...incorrectly.  “Are you sure you “sawed” it happen?  No, you didn’t “seen” it happen either, sorry.”  Eventually, I realized that people generally don’t like being interrupted and corrected mid-story, or speech, or lecture, and this nasty little habit came to a stop.  
And now here I am, in Spain, slowly and painfully trying to speak a language that’s, well, foreign to me, and I get corrected ALL. THE. TIME.  Mid-word, mid-sentence, I’m pretty sure Borja’s even corrected me mid-thought.  And when these events occur, I can’t help but think I hear:
Alicia, it’s God.  You had it kind of rough for a while and so now I’m going to give you a present.  Go to Spain.  Have a great time.  Finish working on you so you can come home and be the strong girl I know you are.  I’m giving you this heaping plate full of destiny, but juuuusssstttt so you remember who’s really in charge, here’s a tiny sprinkling of Karma to keep you in check.  Let’s not forget whose Boss around here.  Oh, and quit eating the chocolate-filled croissants.  
(I have trouble listening to that last bit).
So in the hopes of improving my handle on the lingo, I've now begun Intermediate Spanish with zero prior Spanish instruction and exactly 40 days immersed in the culture.  And, let me just say, it isn’t so bad!  Of course there were times in class where I’m sure the professor peered out into the group and saw me with a very tragically confused look on my face, but I know I wasn’t alone.  I’m pretty sure I saw the same expression flash across the faces of all my classmates at one time or another.  But do you know what really made me happy about the course?  Even though it’s only been a few months since I finished my degree, being back in the classroom was like coming home again.  
(Hold on, I just need to push my glasses back up my nose and work out some figures on my calculator).
But seriously, I’m going to make a big effort to rock this class and hopefully come home with a nice strong base of Spanish under my belt.  That way, when I start a Spanish course or two in the fall...I’m sorry but I just can’t help myself...I'll have something to work with.  
So before I leave you to head outside with my bag of books on this beautiful day in Alicante, I just want to relay a few anecdotes about some vocabulary mix-ups I’ve had here in Spain.
The Spanish word for “summer” is verano while “vegetable” is verdura.  A couple weeks after I arrived, I told José Antonio that I like to go to the beach in a vegetable.  He still reminds me of that often.
“Better” in Spanish is mejor, while “woman” is mujer.  I constantly confuse these two, and after a lunch with my host parents in Granada when I was feeling very confident in my ability to understand them when they speak in español, I told them that I believe my Spanish is getting a woman.  José Antonio just about cried laughing there.
Finally, the best story of all is when I unknowingly spoke my first dirty words in Spanish.  After one of the processions of Semana Santa, José Antonio and I bought a big bag of porras which are basically gigantic churros.  We put them in the kitchen, or the cocina.  Now, apparently, while a porra is a delicious treat of fried dough, a porro is a marijuana cigarette.  And while cocina is a kitchen, a cochina is a promiscuous woman.  Now of course I didn’t know about these “other” words and when Amparo, my host mother, arrived home, I confidently told her that the joints were in the whore.  José Antonio and Amparo continue to tell that story in great detail at every social gathering and whenever they introduce me to any of their friends.  “This is Alicia, she’s our American daughter, and you’ll never guess what she said!”  I’m very lucky they both have such a great sense of humor.

If you guys need me, I’ll be in the library, happy as a clam.

Thanks for reading,

I realized shortly after publishing my post on Sevilla that I forgot to include this photo, which is my favorite that I've taken in Spain so far.  

Please notice the sign.


  1. Some of your best stuff is your inadvertent malaprops (I think I used this word correctly here....not sure though). I believe Dad and I will have a good time recounting the "joint is in the whore". Nice. Way better than "have you got your scissors?"

  2. Love it! I had this happen to me several times when first learning ASL at Deaf coffee nights in Rochester. The signs for alcohol and institution are very similar...

    It was great talking to you today and hearing all your happy vibes coming this way. I hope your upcoming trips are a blast and offer up many "one liners" for future posts!