I already spoke Spanish fluently when my wife and I moved to Mexico in 2015, but since that ability is not apparent from looking at me, people often assume that I don’t and they sometimes treat me like I’m invisible.
For example, I may be patiently waiting to be assisted by a store clerk and none of them will approach me or even greet me. However, as soon as I utter a word or two of Spanish, they give me a surprised look and become more attentive. This happened to me yesterday while trying to buy a new cell phone in Playa del Carmen.
I’ve experienced this type of behavior for years and it’s not limited to Mexico.
A few years back, I was standing standing in line at a large coffee shop in Bogotá, Colombia. When I finally made it up to the clerk, she looked at me with a mildly annoyed face and started to call for a manager. When I asked her in Spanish why she was calling for a manager, she looked surprised and apologized. She said that she didn’t think that I could speak Spanish so she was calling for assistance.
An Amusing Story
This story occurred in Colombia about 10 years ago.
My wife, who is originally from Colombia, and I were invited to a luncheon at the home of an old family friend. Our host was a woman in her 60’s who did not speak any English. After greeting me with a short mucho gusto, she ignored me and chatted exclusively with the others.
This one was partially my fault because I didn’t make any attempt to participate in the conversation. It seemed easier to sit quietly and eat my lunch.
Here is the funny part. Whenever she would pass me something, she would slowly sound it out in Spanish. For example, when she passed me the rice she said “arrrrozzzzzzzzzzzzzz”. This happened several times and each time I would answer with a simple gracias.
About an hour into lunch, she asked my wife a question related to immigration law in the United States. Coincidentally, I was teaching classes on the topic to law enforcement officers in the United States, so my wife told her that I could answer that one.
The woman looked at me a bit puzzled and then glanced back at Linda. I paused a moment before answering because I knew that my peaceful lunch was about to come to end.
The moment I started to answer her question in Spanish, her eyes widened and her face turned red. She covered it with both hands and then started to laugh.
She said that she felt a little embarrassed about trying to teach me Spanish and I told her not to worry about it. A few minutes later, I asked her to please pass me more arrrrrrrrooooooozzzzzz. My wife did not find it as amusing as I did.
Let’s Wrap This Up
For those of you who are thinking of making the move to Mexico, I encourage you to start learning Spanish before you come down. It will be much easier for you to pick up the language once you have an understanding of the basics.
If you need some help with it, you can start by watching the short videos on our site: Spanish for Retirees.