El Idioma

In Practice on October 12, 2011 at 10:36 am

Lessons have begun again. We’ve been joined by Stefan, a German who has been here for eleven years, and someone else is due next week. In a fortnight or so there’ll be five of us we’re told by Luis, the teacher. Two hours is a pretty punishing length of time to sit still and attempt to acquire language, but none of us can make it on any other day but Friday. We feel fairly smug studying alongside someone who’s been here so long, so we must guard against that I suppose.

We like Luis – he likes food and wine, the Arab history of Spain and getting out into the open country, so we feel compatible. Also, he’s from Madrid, so when he speaks we understand it, as opposed to the consonant-free andaluz of the average Tarifeño. Well, K understands him. I do my best. Picking up between forty and sixty percent and guessing at the rest seems to be working for me so far. Given my distractable nature it’s more or less what I’ve been doing with English all my life, so no big change.

He’s invited us along the next time he and his “little group” go walking in the mountains. I will pester him about it too, until he honours the invitation. We need to find ourselves more frequently in the company of Spaniards. Especially K; unlike her I spend my days in Spain and not in glorious British isolation on the Rock but, to be honest, when it comes to reaching my goal of good conversational Spanish “Teacher! Alejandro stuck his pen in my arm!” doesn’t really help.

Also, when children gather they tend to all speak at the same time. They don’t take turns like we do. It isn’t very good from a listening comprehension point of view, especially when you take all the missing teeth and lisped sibilants into account. I need to a) meet more adults and b) convince Alejandro to stop sticking his pen in Clara’s arm.

In classrooms where I am the student, I regress. Every time. I’m comically keen to answer questions and earn teacher’s approval. I have to fight the urge to put my hand up when I know the answer. When another student falters it is difficult not to interrupt. That said I’m an easy going student, happy to go with the flow. K, not so much. She’s a stickler.

The most recent lesson was a good one we felt. Some are good and some are plain baffling. I left one class last year with less Spanish than I’d had going in. We’re getting used to Luis though and he to us; finding each other’s style. This last time K asked one of her questions. Always a tricky moment when she does that; you can see the fear in Luis’ eyes. Something like “but why is the imperative still ending with “a” – isn’t this third person subjunctive?” or “but since it’s a reflexive verb can’t we just add the pronoun to the infinitive?” or some such (I tend to tune her questions out as they reveal how far ahead of me she is).

“If you can ask me a question like that at eight o’clock on a Friday evening”, Luis replied in evident disbelief, “what are you like on Mondays?”

We got back to the lesson; K to her close surveillance of Luis’ teaching, and me to my best impersonation of a grown-up. It isn’t easy; Friday nights bring another reason for childish excitement – we go out to eat after class in my beloved Perulero, the first place I ever had a beer in this town and where I was sitting when I first met my favourite ex-cinema.

El Perulero means The Peruvian and there’s nothing Peruvian about the place except for the fact that it’s named after a Peruvian. It’s an old school Spanish bar that serves raciones of the kind of food you could have eaten in this country fifty years ago and that, if there’s any justice, you’ll be able to eat here fifty years from now. If you order a gamba here you get a gamba and that’s it. There are no balsamic swirls, garnishes or complimentary sides. You get what you ask for; such a simple idea – I wonder why it hasn’t caught on outside Spain.

Being Spain and being coastal most of the menu items are fish or seafood. K doesn’t do seafood so, just as our coming here has become a ritual, so have our choices. For carbohydrates we select either Papas Bravas (fried potatoes in a spicy sauce) or Ensaladilla Rusa (Russian salad – potatoes, tuna, mayonnaise, peas, carrots, olives and grated egg). Interesting fact about Ensaladilla Rusa; it was banned under Franco’s dictatorship for not being sufficiently Spanish. Of course nothing could be less Spanish than being told what and what not to eat so everybody continued to tuck in to the popular dish under the names Ensaladilla Nacional or Ensaladilla Imperial.

For a vegetable dish we always have fried peppers – the Spanish ones are long and thin and perfect for frying. Salted, they are heaven. And the headliner is usually fish – some brotola (codling) or a fritura – a fried mix of seasonally available fish and seafood. K eats the fish and I eat the seafood.

What is complimentary at El Perulero are the top-ups of wine that Juan keeps pouring for us despite our inability to tot up a bill of more than twenty euros for dinner and drinks for two. This is a man who shakes your hand when you come in and pours you a chupito (a shot) when you leave. In the autumn and winter we sit inside at one of the barrels and watch some football on the TV. I keep my eye on the regulars at the bar; that’s where I’m going to hold court and bore everyone rigid with my opinions on everything whenever these Spanish lessons finally pay off.

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  1. I would love to hear you holding forth in perfect ‘spanglish’ perched on your barrel. We must do that one day.

  2. Gotta love a bar with free refills of wine!

    Love your ability to tell a story of being the student to the teacher to the future guy sitting at the bar, telling a story both through his words and the lines upon his face.


    ~ Emme

  3. K sounds like that nerdy, miss goody two shoes who is the teacher’s pet and just likes to learn and ask the teacher hard questions. I can relate! 🙂 Although I have to admit – it can be a bit annoying. However, love her enthusiasm!

  4. that was such a good read, especially the last paragraph – so funny. I could just picture you perched on a stool and showing off every last spanish word you ever heard!

  5. If only they had free refills of wine here in Malaysia. I would be speaking Spanish if they did 🙂

  6. Loved this – I always find classroom situations bizarre … your food descriptions are making me hungry for wine and Spanish food…

  7. Seems you have somewhat of a happy-go-lucky approach to this, while K is a bit more more structured…has nothing to do with nationalities, has it …? (A good, fun read, by the way)

  8. Y’know…. I like K more and more as I read these stories of yours. 😉

  9. My Spanish might get better when I have someone topping my drink frequently 🙂

  10. A thoroughly enjoyable read, Robin!

  11. Great post, lots of funny moments. I loved Luis’s response to K’s question. Your favorite restaurant sounds like a local place to treasure.

  12. Your Spanish class sounds a lot more interesting than mine. Had fun reading this!

  13. I’ve had that feeling of leaving a Spanish class knowing less than I came in with as well, I thought I was the only one. 😉 Thanks for sharing this, I really enjoyed it!

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