Another country, another language, another way of life. Each time I cross the Atlantic, I find myself assimilating and integrating to the norms of a new environment. Most of the time I make the transition quite smoothly, however so far, this season has proved to be a bit of a challenge.
Ferrol is a small city with a non-existent tourism industry, thus finding people who speak English hasn’t been an easy task. Aside from my American and Bosnian teammates, my coaches, Spanish teammates and people around the organization speak little to no English. Add this to the fact that I have almost zero Spanish vocabulary, makes conversing somewhat difficult.
That being said, I’ve managed to conquer essential phrases such as “quiero un café con leche por favor” (I’d like a coffee with milk please) and “donde esta el cuarto de baño?” (where’s the bathroom?), in addition to simple greetings, thank you’s and good byes. But aside from that, I’m completely lost. I do feel as though I’m beginning to understand when spoken to, but responding is a completely different beast. At times I’ve found myself starting out in Spanish, only to complete a question or sentence in French. This has earned me some odd looks and shakes of the head. I’m learning, albeit slowly. I never realized how scary it is trying to speak a foreign language. It’s frustrating not being able to communicate the way I want to.
This barrier always seems to lead to interesting situations. Almost everyday we have 3 practices. Ninety percent of the time they follow the same routine. One evening we (the two English speakers) were told in broken English that we needed only running shoes for morning conditioning. Thus, the following morning Jhasmin and I arrived at the gym in our sneakers, workout gear and nothing else. Big mistake. Apparently we were having a full-fledged basketball scrimmage. Here I was in cross trainers without ankle braces or my mouth guard, expected to battle against two 6’4 post players. Nervous about getting hit in the face or rolling an ankle, I decided I was going to cruise and take it easy. Being as competitive as I am, that didn’t last long and I thankfully survived the practice injury free (aside from a few bruises). That day I learned a valuable lesson – to always pack everything and anything I might need for conditioning, weights or full practice in my gym bag each day. You can never be too prepared!
Interestingly enough, being a non-native Spanish speaker seems to provide entertainment to those around me. The other day during practice I ran down the court and yelled out one of our plays, which I thought was called “coño.” All of a sudden everyone stopped. My teammates burst out laughing and my two male coaches turned red. Confused, my point guard eventually explained what I had just said - now it was my turn to turn red! Apparently the play is actually called “puño,” however when pronounced, sounds very similar to the first. I’ll let you figure out the first word, but let you know the second means “fist” and is definitely not what I said when I was running down the court…
Though miscommunications can be amusing, they can also be costly. Last week I decided I needed a haircut. I always wear my hair long, but it had reached the point where it was proving to be somewhat unruly and needed a trim. By trim, I meant taking 2 inches off – no more. I described what I wanted to a teammate and made sure she thoroughly explained it to the hair stylist, who did not speak English. Confident we had an understanding, my teammate left and I sat down in the chair. Watching her every move, the cut started out right and I was able to relax. Glancing up from my magazine a few minutes later, my heart dropped. She had taken off close to 5 inches and layered the hair short – real short. Used to the feeling of hair resting on my shoulders, I now found the longest pieces barely making contact with my t-shirt. Upset and unsure of what to do, I told her to her stop. Somehow, I managed to communicate to not to go any shorter, but to make it all one length. Sweating under the hair apron, I continually reminded myself that my hair would grow back. Thankfully my job requires me to wear a ponytail 90% of the time, but as I found out later that day, putting it all up with one elastic band has proved to be difficult. If there is one word of advice I can offer, it’s this: NEVER get your hair cut in Europe…
Though language barriers can be difficult, I've decided to be proactive. Last week I did some research and signed up for Spanish lessons at the local university. I start today! It will be interesting trying to learn Spanish from someone who speaks no English, but is worth a shot. Wish me luck!
-BW aka Bringo (Bringo is the nickname my Spanish teammates have decided for me. Bre + gringo = Bringo...)
Sidenote: Press play to watch highlights of our 7 point ‘friendly’ loss to Santiago de Compostela. I’m number 11 blue and score 6 points in the clip.