Ho sento, no parlo català…


Asimismo, no hablo español.

It’s been one of the first questions that almost everyone asks us about our trip.  Do you speak Spanish?  Well, no. That wouldn’t really help us in Barcelona, regardless, as most folks here speak Catalan. My understanding is that Barcelonans learn both Catalan in school with Spanish as their second language, which lead to my expectation that very few locals would speak English.  Many things I read about Spain in advance of our trip reinforced that expectation.

This is only the second time I’ve traveled to a country where I know nothing of the language. I took many years of French in school, which covered me during trips to Eastern Canada and France, and hopefully will in Belgium if we make it there on this trip. I studied Italian for a year in college in hopes of spending a semester in Italy, but when I left the architecture program those dreams were dashed.  Alas, it was enough to get us around later as tourists. But when we went to The Netherlands, I didn’t know a single word of Dutch.  However, English seemed much more the norm in Amsterdam, living a pretty seamless existence alongside Dutch, even between locals, at least in the city.

Here in Spain, that is not the case.  Everywhere we go we hear Catalan all around us.  In every circumstance, it is how we are greeted.  And yet, we have found that many locals do speak at least some English. More than once, we’ve witnessed English bridging the gap between Catalan and other languages. Our table neighbors at lunch yesterday spoke German, but they communicated with our waitress in English.  So, as soon as we don’t immediately respond to inquiries in Catalan, we’re given English only menus and spoken to exclusively in English, even if mostly broken.

To be perfectly honest, we’re a little bummed.  I have been longing to see both languages side-by-side in more situations, to be forced into conversation so that I can try to start piecing words and phrases together here and there. I really can’t stand being the ignorant American.

I was pretty excited at lunchtime today when we stopped to look at a restaurant menu and the proprietor began speaking to us in Spanish.  She was so kind, trying to communicate each item on the list of specials.  We decided to go in and continue this nearly literal game of charades in which both sides gestured dramatically to communicate menu items and orders.  In her efforts to make absolutely sure we understood what we were getting ourselves into, our server used her smartphone to search for photos of the dishes and taught us how to say them.  We tried to use our Google translate app to determine Catalan words and she tsked at us, “No no, Espanish!”  So embarrassing – we couldn’t even tell the difference!  But we all moved on, en español.

As we went up to pay for our meal, she asked us about our trip and, once again, we fumbled through the conversation.  “Cuánto tiempo estás visitando?  Una semana?”  Hmm…indicating a short length, “semana”…indicating a longer length año…questioning the middle? “Ah, un mes!”  “Sí, dos meses!”  And so it went.  A conversation, however basic.

Honestly, we had the best time because, ultimately, we walked away with a few more words under our belts. I also felt more confident to just go for it with what little Spanish I do know.  So, no…jo no parlo català…y yo no hablo español…but…estoy aprendiendo!


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