First Contacts

Day 003 – July 25, 2011

It had to happen sooner or later and today was that day.

Living in a country where I am not fluent in the local language is eased by the fact that my lovely wife speaks Spanish. Over the past weekend, she took the lead in any interactions with the non-English speaking population for the same reason that I handle all the problems and issues regarding computers – we speak the same language and culture.

This Monday, with her at work, would see the end of that support for me as I would have to linguistically fend for myself.

Around 10:00am, the doorbell rang. I went to the door and met a gentleman in a T-shirt and jeans. There was a van in our driveway which appeared to be holding vast amounts of bottled water. As best as I could understand from this individual, he was here to deliver the bottled water to our residence.

As fate would have it, just last night I read a “Welcome to Peru” booklet provided by my wife’s employer and in the section on Safety, it advised the reader to never, NEVER allow in any unscheduled delivery person. So, there was no way in Hades that this individual and his companion in the van were coming in, not by the hair of my chinny-chin-chin. Using my awesome command of Spanish, I told him in no uncertain terms that I was not accepting any bottled water and that he was not coming in.

Actually, what I did was just say “No” many times with a few repetitions of “Lo siento, no entendio” (I’m sorry, I don’t understand.).

Not the most satisfying of first attempts of using the local language to communicate, but my needs were met in that he did not come in to the house.

Frustration and unmet needs would come with the next interaction.

Later in the afternoon, I took the kids shopping at the local grocery store. Near the entrance was a kiosk for one of the telecommunications companies that provide cellular phone services. I had a cell phone, but for it work down here in Peru, it needed a SIM card.

I approached the kiosk and stated “Quiero un SIM card” (I want a SIM card). The response that came back from the red-uniformed woman was such a staccato volley of Spanish that I lost her at “Buenas tardes”.

This is a large issue with me when attempting to communicate in Spanish. I know the basics and can make simple requests. It is when the conversation is elevated to a more complicated level, that I become lost and frustrated. For example, I can ask for a chicken sandwich at KFC, but when I am then asked if I would like either dsghjkff fdjshf uu hsahufda y asda9vdsa, well…you can see my confusion.

This woman had no issue handing me a SIM card, but I had other questions, such as how do I know how much money was left on the SIM card and how do I put more money on the card. Try as I might, I could not get the words out in Spanish. I even forgot how to say the word for “When?” (which is cuando, by the way).

My Spanish was so horrendous at that kiosk that my children were offering their services to translate for me. Such is the wonderment of youth that they felt that they could rescue me and such is the folly of non-youth that I told them that I was fine and could do this myself.

After fifteen minutes of futilely searching the air for words that wouldn’t come, of drawing, and of pantomime, I left without the SIM card.

More than not obtaining what I wanted, the biggest frustration for me in these interactions is that I know what I wanted to say, but I was helpless. The concepts that I wanted to impart to the woman in the kiosk were in my head, but that’s where they stayed. Try as I might, I could not make her understand me, and the fault lay completely with me. I am a gentleman with (IMHO) above-average intelligence, two college degrees, and a deep appreciation for the works of William Shakespeare, Monty Python’s Flying Circus, and George Carlin.

Yet all the woman in the kiosk saw was a babbling, blundering, mildly incoherent man with the vocabulary of a six-year old.

In only four days, I had gone from a man who could pontificate and communicate on all manner of subjects vegetable, animal, and mineral…to a person who appeared to the world to be suffering from aphasia.

A tiny bit humbling.


About sinpolaris

sinpolaris is the psuedonym of a guy who likes to write.

Posted on September 16, 2011, in Peru and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 10 Comments.

  1. Not that it really helps your situation one iota (and here’s hoping the immersion in the culture kick-starts your latent mutant Spanish skills), but I get the opposite situation around here. Living in Maine, we get tons of tourists from Quebec in the summer. I never feel like more of an asshole than when some tourist who speaks almost no English asks me for directions, and I’m fumbling around trying to avoid doing the “talk slower and louder and they’ll understand, right?” bullcrap.

    I mean, who would have thought I’d need to know French in Maine (some locals insist in speaking in some bastardized form of French, too)?

  2. We’ve had a Claro prepaid phone for two months, and we still can’t figure out how to check the remaining balance on it. Part of the problem seems to be that you don’t buy “minutes”. You just add to the balance, whatever that is. How fast that balance gets used up depends on who you’re calling, and what carrier they use. Per-minute rates apparently vary hugely depending on whether you’re calling another Claro phone, or some other carrier. It’s been extremely frustrating thinking we had a ton of minutes left, only to run out in the middle of a phone call and get cut off… apparently because Claro and whatever carrier we were calling didn’t have a nice agreement with each other.

    • Try dialing *777# (that would be star-seven-seven-seven-pound). I have (ooh, spolier alert) a Claro phone now and that is how I check how many minutes I have remaining.

  3. Thank you! We just successfully checked our balance, and it was more thrilling than any activity so mundane has any right to be.

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