Last year I spent a month in Spain on my own. After three years of studying Spanish at university, it was time to put my knowledge of the language into ‘real world’ practice. I flew into Barcelona where I spent four full-on days eating pinxtos, drinking tinto de verano and wandering the gothic streets in search of Gaudi’s buildings. Whilst these jam-packed days and nights spent in Barcelona were unforgettable, I found it near impossible to practice my Spanish. My stream of greetings and questions in shops, restaurants and on the streets were answered in broken English, and I found myself surrounded by English-speaking German travellers.
I left Barcelona feeling defeated. Any confidence I had in my ability to speak the beautiful Spanish language had been shot. I wanted to be mistaken for a local, to speak Spanish without hesitation or effort. I wanted to forget basic English words, for the words ‘hola’ and ‘gracias’ to roll more naturally from my tongue than ‘hello’ and ‘thank-you’. I wanted to dream and think in Spanish, to roll my r’s and lisp my c’s.
I left Barcelona for Sevilla with every desperate hope that things would improve. I planned to spend the five-hour train journey to Andalucía practicing my verbs and tenses, when a kind, grey-haired man sat next to me and introduced himself; “Soy Ricardo! ¿Como se llama?” This was the moment I had been waiting for – an opportunity to speak in Spanish, to ask questions and to listen, to learn new words and to notice the subtle differences in regional pronunciations. I am forever thankful to Ricardo who dedicated five-hours of his life to speak with a dirty-haired and sunburnt Australian backpacker.
We spoke about politics, agriculture, soccer and religion – all in Spanish. Ricardo bought me a coffee and pastry in the train’s tiny cafeteria, refusing my offer of payment. He explained it was his duty to demonstrate the generosity and hospitality of Spanish people. He talked me through the confusing articles of the local newspaper. At one point our conversation was joined by a Spanish couple across the aisle who wanted to hear about Australia and my impressions of Spain. As our train reached its destination, Ricardo explained the bus route to my hostel, and kissed me goodbye on both cheeks.
I will forever be thankful to Ricardo, the kind and generous soul who restored my faith in Spain. I have a feeling that our conversation was just as worthwhile to him as it was to me; he made no mention of family and had an air of loneliness about him.
Thank-you, from the bottom of my heart, for your kindness and patience. Thank-you for encouraging me to speak your beautiful language. Your memory of me has likely been replaced by a more recent train-conversation, but I will not forget you and your wonderful gift of the Spanish language.
De mi corazón, gracias.