Friday, 30 November 2012

Grillou crosses the Pyrenees (3)

While we were over on the other side of the Pyrenees we met a few people like us, who've upped sticks from their own country and settled somewhere new. There's often a kind of bond amongst such 'strangers' that has nothing to do with country of origin and everything to do with the shared experience of culture change. I'm always open to opportunities for such random conversations, which often take place on café terraces or in restaurants and are invariably fascinating.

But what comes up in these meetings, time and time again, is that there's one factor that seems to be number one in determining whether the move works out or not, and that's language - as in being able to speak it. Those who can't (and I include in that a French couple that we met over lunch in L'Ametlla de Mar) seem to feel like permanent holiday makers; those who can describe their adopted country as 'home'.

Although my French and Latin background means that I can understand a good deal of written Spanish and Catalan, my spoken command massacre of both doesn't bear description; it barely goes beyond being able to pass the time of day, book a hotel room or order lunch. Unfortunately it seems that my accent when I do manage to get out a few words must be reasonable, because invariably the other person comes back with a torrent of stuff at a million kilometres an hour that just goes right over my head; fortunately however it seems that my accent suggests me to be French and not English. I say fortunately for two reasons: firstly it's much more likely that the other person can cobble together a few words of French than English, and secondly because it's no secret that French visitors and holidaymakers are rather more respected than English ones.

And I have to tell you that I hated having a language barrier. Not just because of the shame I felt when I couldn't understand what people said to me, but also because there were so many things I wanted to ask different people at different times, like the incredibly helpful and knowledgeable woman who showed us round the Civil War Museum in Corbera d'Ebre. So it's decided: this year's Solstice resolution is going to be Getting To Grips With Spanish, at long last. But I'm left, once again, with the question of how people manage to live in a country without having at least a reasonable command of its language.


Margaret Lawrenson said...

As you know, I have similar gripes which I've aired on my blog. I too want to get to grips with Spainish (or Catalan perhaps?). Please swap your learning ideas! There IS stuff online, but personal feedback helps, non?

Kalba Meadows said...

Yes, we must talk! Now how do you say that in Spanish? Or Spainish, even :)

Sharon said...

Sadly I'm fluent in English only, am OK in French and understand some Spanish. Oh! and a rusty spattering of Japanese.(only a few selected phrases you understand). But I do have the same problem as Kalba in Spain. If I prepare my question I appear to be more fluent than I am and so people answer back and I'm lost. I suppose my weak defence is I try, after all I'm the visitor and it's beholden upon me to communicate.

Kalba Meadows said...

Japanese!! I am In Awe, Sharon!