Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Translators: More than meets the eye!

Happy Belated St. Patrick´s Day, readers!
As someone who very often takes too much pride in how little Irish he is (1/8, give or take), I hope your day consisted of foot-tapping music, potatoes, green, accents, a whee bit of Guiness, and some reflection on the work and life of the 4th century saint.  For being such an enthusiastic evangelizer, I think we can easily say "T'anks a 'mil" to St. Patrick.  As much as I'd love to write about the wonders of Irish culture right now, it probably would not make a lot of sense considering nothing happened here in Santiago to commemorate the feast day. However, it's a good segue into the real topic for today, since on the 8th of March I met with Claire and James (my sister and brother-in-law, respectively) in Madrid for the final part of their European vacation, which consisted of a week in the Emerald Isle!

For those of you who don't commit popular television theme songs to memory, the title of this post is a play on words from the Transformers series, which came from a toy and has now "transformed" into a movie series.  As I was writing this, I suddenly remembered a really random joke my RD Matthew Baker made awhile back, saying that "Translatorbot" sounds like the name given to the lamest Transformer, hence how this title evolved.  Technically, the word "translator" should be "interpreter" in this case since most of what I did in Madrid consisted of translating oral language . . . but it wouldn't sound as cool for the title, so we'll leave it as such.  I think the best stories from our trip definitely came from our translation experiences, some of which I'll spin a yarn for you all in between the general stories.

As you might be able to infer from reading about my marathon sprint in the Madrid-Barajas airport in my trip to Ireland in December, I had labeled myself as a self-proclaimed expert of the design of the terminals.  So, I thought I would be able to meet Claire and James at their gate when they arrived (my flight came in a half hour before theirs). Though it didn't turn into a huge fiasco like in December, I realized after some casual walking around the terminal that it was impossible to view an incoming flight board, so I just took the plunge and exited past the security line.  I guess it is possible to have luck with Ryanair and the Madrid airport, as I easily found them just one small terminal hop over.  After a metro ride of about an hour, we arrived at the the literal heart of the city, as our hostel was located on the main strip called la Gran Vía.  We probably couldn't have asked for a better location just based on all the activity on the street itself and its proximity to many famous sites in Madrid.  One thing that actually surprised me about Madrid was how walkable it was, especially considering its size as the capital.  Arriving at the hostel, I had my first real opportunity to interpret, i.e. speaking to the person in Spanish and then giving really concise summaries of what was said to Claire.  Based on our reservation, the desk manager surely knew we were American, but I really appreciated how she spoke to me in Spanish when she realized that I could.  This is a relatively recent pet-peeve, but it's bothered me when I've asked a passerby for help with something in Spanish (or they ask me something in Spanish), and then they clarify in English if I look puzzled (usually it's not that I don't understand the Spanish, it's just that their answer is normally not what I'm expecting).  Oftentimes I may look like a foreigner based on the way I dress and speak, but to me it's almost insulting if someone doesn't give you a chance in their language, even if you're really proficient! Thus, I'm very happy to say that that was never the case in Madrid, and for me it was definitely a confidence booster language wise. Maybe people do not speak English in Madrid as much, but either way I'll take it.

We were all pretty hungry from our respective days of traveling, so that night we wandered into a buffet called "All You Can Eat" (the name was in English), which I guess you could say specialized in quantity over quality.  The food wasn't bad, though, and we were definitely glad to find something for a decent price.  The first funny language moment came from James when he went downstairs to order his second drink.  After listening to the various options, he decided to order "limón" (lemon).  She gave him a funny look, and he realized that what he thought he had heard as "limón" was actually her pronunciation of "Lipton."  Another peculiar language moment came when we were in "El parque de retiro," the main park in Madrid. It was a beautiful Saturday morning, so we wanted to take a group photo close to some gardens. Spying a gentleman snapping photos with a very fancy camera nearby, I proceeded to ask him, "Perdone, ¿ podría sacar una foto de nosotros, por favor?" (Excuse me, could you take a picture of us, please?). I immediately thought to myself: "Way to go! With that Galician accent, you're just another hombre español." My moment ended pretty quickly when the man responded with, "Sorry? I'm sorry I don't speak Spanish." Cue sinking heart. It's all good though since we got some nice photos out of it.

As far as more language fun goes, Sunday was definitely the best. After attending Mass in the main cathedral (absolutely beautiful with a great children's choir, by the way), we were looking for some good 'ol menu del día, the not-so-well kept secret key to Spanish dining. I'm not sure if it's due to the "crisis" or another reason, but oftentimes in Spanish restaurants one of the employees will stand in the door or out on the street handing out paper menus or inviting people to come inside. Such was the case with these particular restaurant, not too far away from the cathedral. The employee on the street handed me a menu, asked me if I spoke Spanish, and then proceeded to tell me the menu options: "Hay pollo, hay arroz, hay pescado . . ." He turned to Claire and asked her, "You speak English?" Responding in the affirmative, he told her the same thing he told me like this: "Hay chicken, hay rice, hay fish . . ."  Food is a universal language, right?

Before the trip, I was asking my friend Laura, whose family lives in Santiago now but is originally from Madrid, about things to do in the city.  Her aunt María, who goes by Nines, does cultural tours there, so luckily Laura was able to put us in contact.  On Sunday afternoon, we met Nines and her friend Elesa from Valladolid in La puerta del sol and embarked on our adventure from there.  I had known that Nines did not speak English ahead of time, so I was prepared to put my real time interpreting skills to the test like those in the United Nations . . . man, those people make it look so easy! I understood practically everything Nines said, so the difficult came more from the quantity of information.  Claire joked to me later on that she would hear a really long, complex description in Spanish just for me to respond with: "She said this used to be a church."  Well, there is some truth in every good joke, but I think I was getting better at doing rapid translations by the end of the tour.  Nines and Elesa were really nice and told us stories about different parts of the city that we would have never known otherwise, and it was awfully nice of them to take time out of their schedules to do so.

It was such a blessing to see family in the flesh for the first time in seven months (and almost nine for Claire and James). Even though we didn't get a ton of time in Madrid, it was so worth it just being together again.  As I conclude writing this blog post, my parents are on their way across the country and across the Atlantic to come see me here in Santiago! I'll have a hearty blog post (maybe two if necessary) about our adventures for the next week and a half here in Galicia, Valencia and Barcelona.  Thanks again for reading, and have a blessed, profound Holy Week with those you love, dear readers!

And just because . . . ¡Viva Papa Francisco!

P.S. I think Snapfish may have changed its policies recently, so I can't post a normal link that will get you to the album for Madrid. However, if you don't have Facebook and would like to see these and other photos, just send me your email and we'll start sharing!


1 comment:

  1. Hola hermano, thank you for posting our Madridian adventures with you! It provides vivid and thoughtful descriptions of our introduction to the Spanish Culture! However, you fail to mention how much my Spanish improved over the weekend! (Por ejemplo) :)
    Te amo, Claire & James