Interacting in Spanish

Speaking to other people in Spanish can be daunting. I’ve been learning the language since I was 14 and although I would say I am fluent, I’d only really ever spoken with a handful of people before moving to Mexico. Although I understand 98% of what people say I obviously have an accent as it is not my native language, which some people find hard to understand. Sometimes they look at me with squinty eyes (how that affects their ability to hear and understand me I don’t know), or just assume I can’t understand. In a tech shop, an assistant was explaining something to my Mexican boyfriend and we both nodded in agreement. The sales guy turned to him and said “She doesn’t have a clue what I’m saying does she?”

This is my biggest issue. People take one look at me and assume I can’t speak any language but English since I look foreign and the closest country to this part of Mexico is the States. So they ignore me and speak to my Mexican boyfriend or ask him if he needs a menu in English for me. There have also been times when I have half a conversation in Spanish, then the other person has a personality shift and switches to English. It’s astounding. Several times I have answered the phone at work and the speaker has asked for a colleague out of office. I apologise and ask if I can help with anything, at which point the speaker decides to ask if I understand Spanish at all (despite the entire conversation having been so). I say yes, they sound delighted and continue our all-Spanish interaction.

In fairness, I’m not perfect. I forget things sometimes. I was queuing at the checkout in a supermarket and a woman asked me if I wanted ‘cajas’ or ‘bolsas’. I momentarily forgot that ‘cajas’ are boxes, even though I knew ‘bolsas’ are bags. I apologised and told the woman that I didn’t understand. She looked confused and repeated her question without changing any words. I said I was sorry, I didn’t know what ‘cajas’ were. She turned away in desperation before repeating her question a third time. Beginning to panic, I said bags were fine and she happily started to pack my shopping into plastic bags.

I’m hoping I’ll improve with practice. By this I mean my accent and my grumpiness. I should try to stay calm. If anyone is looking to get me a gift, one of those ‘Keep Calm and Drink Tea’ mugs for the office would be a wonderful idea.

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