Lunchtime Language Flub-ups & Lessons

Authored by:
Ashley N.

Ashley N.

Lunchtime Language Flub-Ups

The other day I went to meet my husband’s boss (for lack of a better description) and his wife for lunch.  We are volunteer English teachers in two elementary schools and this was the principal of his school.  They are the most unbelievably generous and sweet people you’d ever hope to meet!  They graciously offered to take us out to see some of the sites in the city and then back to their house for la comida which is one of the biggest meals of the day.  We excitedly got in their car and went around to see the centro.  They were giddy guides gushing about many of the sites and history of this cathedral, that wonderfully antique church, statues, fountains and the history of these places renovated from the 1500’s.  ¡Fijate!  They spoke Spanish rather quickly and it was a challenge to keep up being kind of tired and we'd get a little lost in translation sometimes.

By the time we headed back to their house, I could tell I wasn't on my game. I hadn’t slept well the night before and my brain was just ready to eat and take a nap I suppose.  It can be exhausting to have a meal with your boss (or spouse’s boss).  Naturally, you’d want everything to flow smoothly and may feel a little pressure for it to go well.  Yet, to do this in another language proved to be even more difficult!

You’d want a to carry a conversation well, with a dash of formality, a large dose of graciousness, some wit and plenty of politeness.  Well, it didn’t happen entirely the way I’d have planned! 

In the moment, it felt like the worst thing that could have happened. (These experiences in life prepare you for other challenging things I guess!) We had sat down in their lovely house and were having a really nice lunch of jamòn y pan, pollo y vino to drink.  In an attempt to keep the conversation flowing, I asked about how a granddaughter’s name was chosen.  I was wondering if it came from a family name or the like? I suppose, I didn’t really know or think to question if it was an appropriate cultural question to ask.  I perceived that it seemed to spark an unfavorable reaction or what I thought was a “Don't ask that!  That's not for you to know!” type of response.  In all fairness, it probably wasn’t that at all. I don’t even know what was said in fact!  My ears stopped listening in embarrassment and I retreated inside that dark cave of insecurity in my mind instead of continuing to listen or ask questions.

I thought about how stupid I must’ve sounded and looked.  How I must’ve said something incredibly offensive or insensitive?  Not knowing if I had directly asked about some sensitive subject that was rude to have asked about.  It’s about the same level of misinterpreting a text message or email without knowing the tone or body language or context of a message.  The same happened in this occasion, except I was present in person but not understanding what language had been spoken.  I think it ended up being all in my head, but I couldn’t hold back the tears.  I’m just that way in the right circumstance.  Being tired, overly sensitive and emotional, I blubbered on for a few moments. Sigh!

My boss’ spouse leapt up to hug me and say “No! Que no!” That’s not at all what she meant!  I struggled to calm down and tried to explain what I had misunderstood.   We continued on a little awkwardly trying to clear the air and move on.  Trying to make it light, we talked of our wedding and their daughter’s wedding.  Deep down, I know this is far from the worst thing that could ever happen. But socially, it felt so embarrassing for me personally and for the group!  It didn't happen in a board meeting or in front of thousands on TV, but still, it wasn’t my best moment.

There was far too much good in the day, this shouldn't be what I'd remember about it.  Nevertheless, we have to be kind to ourselves in these situations.  It IS difficult to be out of my comfort zone, socializing in another language, culture and country.  All this takes a toll emotionally and physically.  It IS ok to rest and take in the beauty, newness, curiosity and wonder.

They took us to a communityhuerta (garden) that they have a space in and we looked in a few stores for a few items I had needed.  We went out to have an aperitivo (before dinner drink/appetizer) in the Main Plaza where it was bursting with lots of people going out for the eveing.

It was energizing to be in this most beautiful town square and with buildings that are centuries old.  I wasn’t super hungry as it felt like we’d just eaten later that afternoon.  I didn't realize it was time for dinner and we ended up eating at a really nice restaurant.  I couldn’t finish all the appetizers and steak, but it was delicious! By the end of a long day, most of our conversation was with lots of nodding and hearing about the historical points and curious points of the town and landscape.  I wish I hadn’t been so in my own head, I would’ve relaxed more. We finished the night with a coffee in front of a most amazing church of St. Benito. 


When spoken communication breaks down, as it sometimes does, I realize that these WONDERFUL people who’ve been looking out for us have the best of intentions.  To have taken us around so generously and shown us their city is a kindness that our world needs more of!  If I am conscientious of being respectful as I’d normally be and try my best to communicate than there’s no problem.  Shining a spotlight on the big picture of where I am and all this amazing country has to offer, I realize I’m pretty lucky! 

When in moments of doubt, wipe away the feelings of embarrassment or frustration, breathe in the wonder there is to see, say a prayer of thanks,  appreciate the big picture of beauty that I’m so lucky to experience and exhale any bumps along the way of uncertainty, mistakes and control of situations!


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