I have been reading lots of others’ blogs these past few weeks and have particularly enjoyed Yucatango. The posts are fairly varied but lately have dealt a fair bit with politeness in Yucatan and the nuances of the Spanish language.
It seems curious to me that many international residents say they don’t want to learn Spanish. I think maybe their reticence derives from flashbacks they have of high school or freshman college languages classes. I can’t say I blame them for not wanting to subject themselves to that kind of torture ever again!
Mind you the language institutes I have seen here are not the Draconian dungeons of our youth. They’re bright and sunny and the teachers, usually young and hip…
Learning the basics of the language by living in the country is a totally different pony ride. You do NOT have to sit at an uncomfortable desk and listen to the teacher drone on and on. You can learn by immersion… and it can be quite an adventure!
For example if you do some of your shopping locally, the vendors will teach you the Spanish names of every fruit, vegetable, cut of meat, and cleaning liquid… They also explain the numbers and a host of the neighborhood colloquialisms.
And how do you get these maestros to start the tutoring? All you need to do is smile at them and buy something. If Lesson One doesn’t start on the spot, it will probably get going on your second visit.
The first word I learned in Spanish was: esquina. I had just arrived in Peru, and had boarded the colectivo (a car or van that carries several passengers along a pre-established route… like a bus does)
Anyway… I noticed that people would intermittently call out “Esquina,” the vehicle would stop and out they’d get.
“Aha!” thought I, “Esquina must mean: I want to get off.” Not many minutes later I found out that the word actually means: corner. Although I didn’t get the literal translation right, I did correctly deduce the meaning.
Some new residents are anxious about looking foolish. In Yucatan, you will look a little that way no matter what you do or don’t do. There is a complex social etiquette that most of us read wrong every day. But the good news is that Yucatecans will give you an A for effort.
Go with the flow… it is one of the most liberating rewards of living in this charmed corner of the world.
Photos by Carlos