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Jugo de Piña
May 8, 2004
by Bruce Alderman
 
Madrid, Spain --

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It was my third week in Spain, and I was just beginning to feel comfortable with the language.

I had studied Spanish for three years in school, but when I first stepped off the plane in Madrid I felt a deep sense of inadequacy. All the lessons did not prepare me for such total immersion.

I struggled even in asking directions. The first person who tried to help me spoke with an accent that left me baffled. I could pick out a few words, but not enough to help me get where I needed to go. When it was clear to him that I could not follow what he was saying, he tried his second language -- French.

This was nothing like the safe environment of Spanish class. Though I had just arrived, I was ready to return home.

But as the days went on, I slowly began to pick up the language. I met many patient people in the early days. Sometimes I could practice Spanish with a Spaniard who wanted to practice English. With every conversation my confidence grew -- and so did my comprehension. By the end of the second week I could understand whole sentences, and by the third week I felt like I was really getting it. But some doubts lingered.

I arrived back in Madrid toward the end of the third week after traveling through northern Spain. In downtown Madrid I saw a vendor selling juice. To quench my thirst and to practice my Spanish, I stepped up to the cart. There were a few people ahead of me in line, and I listened to them out of habit, to see if I could understand what they were saying. I heard one person ask for "jugo de piņa" -- pineapple juice. That sounded good to me, so when it was my turn I asked for the same thing. The vendor told me the price. I counted my coins and paid him.

As I walked away, I heard the next person in line ask in English, "What kind of juice was that?" The vendor replied in English. And with that, all remaining insecurities about my Spanish melted away.

I had conducted a transaction in Spanish with someone who also spoke fluent English. Somehow that made all the difference in the world. No longer was I a confused tourist trying to navigate a strange land. I felt like I belonged.

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