I’ve lived in Spain for 10 years now and for the first couple of years I hardly spoke any Spanish at all. Why? Well, my husband could speak Spanish. I was usually with my husband when we were with Spanish people, so I would let him do the speaking. I am also really quite shy by nature; many people won’t believe that because I always push myself to get over the shyness, but it’s there all the same. I am also very afraid of failing, of getting it wrong, of saying something really stupid and to be honest looking like an idiot. The fear of being bad at something has held me back a few times in my life, this was one of them.
So, for the first few years in Spain I only made casual Spanish acquaintances and some very good Spanish friends, who basically took pity and played the charades game with me. I joined in with everything, I turned up, but I wasn’t really there! I spent hours looking at Spanish text books, learning loads of words that sounded brilliant in my head. And that’s where they stayed, in my head. Nothing came out of my mouth. Then something happened. I got irritated with myself – really pissed off with myself. I was losing myself behind my husband, text books and my keyboard. I wasn’t pushing past my shyness any more, but just disappearing into the background.
So I went to local Spanish classes with the Moroccan children. I taught English to Spanish kids – I love Spanish kids, they’re so honest – “¿Que? ¡Coño!” when they didn’t understand me. I learnt all my favourite swear words from Spanish kids. I learnt to drive a boat in Spanish and passed my Spanish boat driving exams (second time round). I learnt to scuba dive at a Spanish dive club and become an advanced diver. I went to Spanish cookery classes and drove crazy, octogenarian ladies to Zumba. I hosted dinner parties at my house, I cooked and made very bad paella. I wrote, edited and translated two Spanish cookery books. I went to communions, weddings and lunches, with drummers, strippers and vicars. I joined the La Murta fiesta committee and learnt to shout really loudly and hold 3 different conversations at the same time, whilst serving pan y sobrasada to crowds of hungry revellers at 4am.
I went to communions, weddings and lunches, with drummers, strippers and vicars.
I thought I was doing really well with my Spanish, then a couple of years ago, I was coming up to my 40th birthday, feeling fat, disaffected and decrepit, so I decided to learn to ride a horse. I don’t know what the plan was either, just believe me, it seemed like a good idea at the time. I had a few lessons with a raucous Argentinian instructor and with those tens of hours of experience (!) bought myself a running, jumping horsey. In the first two weeks I fell off 5 times, testing my airbag jacket to the max. I girded my loins and got back on. Off we went racing around the arena, faster than a, well ermm, speeding horse.
I needed to stop, I needed some brakes. I shouted in panic to my instructor “¿Dónde están mis bragas de urgencia?”
The instructor fell to the floor, clutching his sides, laughing.
“¡Eh, coño, bragas de urgencia, por favor!” See those lessons in swearing from the Spansh kids were coming in handy! I’m still racing around the arena on my slightly deranged horse, shouting, waving and and to be honest worrying about soiling myself.
Now the yard owner is laughing and the stable hand. Other riders had stopped what they were doing and were laughing too. I mustered my wheezing breath for one last shout: “Bragas de urgencia?” and threw myself off the careening horse, setting off my airbag again and landing on my back like a tipped up turtle. Of course, my horse immediately stopped and sauntered off looking for food. When I could breathe again (have you ever used one of those airbag thingies?) I barged over to the howling instructor and let loose a stream of childish Spanish swear words. Then I stomped off home.
I went back the next day, with my tail between my legs and a new word in my Spanish armoury – frenos – brakes. Bragas, of course, are knickers!