Thursday, December 22, 2016

Culture Shock? More like language shock.

Culture shock is a strange thing. I know I've written about it before, but I'll recap. Culture shock (at least for me) does not play out like in the movies. It isn't screaming and crying in a crowd while being overwhelmed by different sights, smells, tastes, and sounds. It's the insidious sapping of your morale and will to function. You notice it in small ways, like deciding to eat in (because it means not having to deal with a server at a restaurant) or an increase in how much Netflix or TV you watch. I never really ran into this living in Chennai, though I did run into some difficulty adjusting to the different work culture of the State Department (vs my previous jobs as a contractor to the Defense Department).

However, mere days after arriving in Buenos Aires, I hit a pretty hard language wall. The city of Buenos Aires is not unlike large cities in the US, however (unsurprisingly) everyone speaks Spanish. Surprisingly few people can or are willing to speak English in day-to-day life. Similarly, I've never been particularly adept at languages, even when studying abroad. This fact has been particularly poignant here. In retrospect, Chennai sidesteps this problem as practically every single person you meet speaks English AND as someone who doesn't look Indian, people would default to speaking to me in English. Other than my clothes (and general lack of fashion), I very easily blend in with the Argentines, so I am regularly confronted by my inability to communicate. Writing this many many months later, I can say I've reached an equilibrium with my discomfort and awkwardness.

I have, of course, been trying to learn Spanish, both for work and for my personal sanity outside work, but we also had a new baby shortly after arriving. Any parent knows that your time mysteriously disappears when children are involved, and you start to really cherish your free time (which makes me less likely to spend it on studying!). I've been pretty consistent with Duolingo, so I guess we'll see how effective that is. (Spoiler alert, not very!) I do 3 'lessons' or 30xp per day at a minimum, and I've maintained that streak for over 200 days. My goal is to keep it up for my entire tour or until I'm comfortable speaking Spanish... so yeah, my entire tour!

In the mean time, I leave you with the most valuable phrase to know when traveling in a Spanish-speaking country (if you don't speak Spanish):

Mi aerodeslizador esta lleno de anguilas : My hovercraft is full of eels.

You never know when you need to show someone just how completely you don't understand a word they are saying. Open with this and, trust me, they'll know.

No comments:

Post a Comment