candy from strangers and the paradox of good Spanish

Today was the first day of spring! Not only are there many festivities and fun activities that take place in celebration of spring, but the first day of spring, September 21st, is also el día del estudiante, or the day of the student (Students’ Day, if I may). Therefore, all of my classes for today were cancelled and instead of being cooped up in a classroom, I got to spend my entire day outside enjoying the beautiful 77 F-degree weather.

Aside from being the first day of spring AND el día del estudiante, today is also my official 2 month anniversary with Buenos Aires 🙂 And I think that it is safe to say that I celebrated quite productively. I met 2 of my friends in the Plaza de Mayo to go to Puerto Madero, which is right on the river. We sat by the river and ate lunch and soaked up the beautiful sun and great weather. After a lovely lunch, we headed over to a bus company to buy our tickets to go to Uruguay for Thanksgiving! We’ll be away for about 6 days, spending Thanksgiving weekend in Punta del Este, 2 nights in Montevideo, and a day in Colonia. We were so proud of ourselves, walking out of the bus company, for being able to book our tickets and get everything for Uruguay done so efficiently, that I’ve decided to write about something that’s been on my mind for a few days now:

The paradox of good Spanish. 

It sounds odd that having good Spanish would be a paradox, but I’ve observed that it is not always the most helpful thing. For example, one of my friends was telling me about how she has met her Argentine friends here, and most of the time it is because when she speaks, they notice her accent and ask her where she is from, how long she is here, etc. Because I already have another foreign language under my belt, and because it has a wider “sound vocabulary,” if i may, I do not have any sort of American accent when I speak Spanish. I have a fairly neutral accent, and I have been asked if I am Colombian or Brazilian.

Now for the paradox: not-great Spanish, or Spanish with an American accent sparks conversation, questions, and interest. Spanish with a neutral accent, spoken with moderate fluidity, results in no extra conversation, and rarely sparks questions.

I know I might sound like a brat complaining about something like this, but it is definitely something that has been on my mind recently. Not to say that I don’t love speaking Spanish – I really do, and it is most definitely beneficial over 90% of the time to be able to speak fluidly and be able to get my thoughts and words out at the same time – but, it is certainly paradoxical that an American accent makes friends and conversation and a neutral accent makes for a civil and short exchange of words.

Back to my day: after our successful ticket-buying outing (which we completed completely in Spanish, with no miscommunication whatsoever – gold star in my Spanish language skills book!), we spent the next few hours wandering around the city and going to get coffee and desserts before heading back home (after satisfying my need for iced coffee, the next craving I need to give in to is sweet tea – seriously, somebody mail me some iced tea packets to brew?). However, we managed to have the most interesting experience in the café. There was a man sitting alone at the table next to us, and as he got up to use the restroom, he asked my friend (in a very confusing accent – it had to have been Spanish with a French accent, perhaps?) if she would watch his bag while he was gone. She agreed, and we continued on with our conversation. A few moments later, my friend Amber caught our attention with an, “Oh my gosh!” As we looked over behind us, there was a different man drinking the drink out of the glass of the man who had gone to the bathroom. This stranger had come up to the table next to us (we were sitting outside), and just downed the other man’s drink! We had no clue what to do – by the time we realized what was happening, he had already walked away. Our friend returned and sat back down, and after noticing that his drink was gone, turned and started talking to my friend about his Cuba Libre (which we’d thought was Coke, due to the empty glass bottle on the table) that was there when he went to the bathroom and gone when he came back. Unfortunately, due to the thick accent, that was about all that we understood. Nonetheless, as he was leaving, he left us 3 pens and a box of candies on the table. Oh, just a little old man, a little strange, and with a complicated accent. I chose not to have any of the candy, but I have to say, that is the first time I’ve every been offered candy from a stranger, and I’m glad I finally got to use my elementary school teachings to not take it! I guess everything you ever need to know in life you really do learn in kindergarten.




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