We first met Sagar Dubey during our Summer Video Challenge (he was the guy who jumped out of the perfectly good airplane.) I was so interested in his blend of languages and cultures that I thought to reach out to him and ask if he was willing to share his story. Indeed he was. Here, Sagar shares his initial shock of landing in a foreign land, and some of the language foibles that he committed.
by Sagar Dubey
Hi. My name is Sagar. I’m from Mumbai, India, and I’m going to share with you a little about what happens when I moved from one of the most diverse and populous megacities of the world to a small middle-of-nowhere town in Argentina.
Flashback to last year around this time.
I’m about to leave for Argentina from Mumbai (where it’s hot and super rainy) on my first trip to the other side of the world for work. I’m happy, excited, and nervous with lots of expectations and fears. I wasn’t worried about communication, it’s a western country; of course they speak English! And if they don’t, I picked up a little Spanish last year didn’t I? Even though I hadn’t practised or attended a class in almost 6 months, my “Hola, Como Estas?, Donde esta el baño?” should get me started. Besides, I’m going to be working with other engineers, so surely they know enough English to help me out with the basics!
So, I’m taking off from Johannesburg and the flight is full of Argentinians and the soft sounds of Spanish come filtering in and I smile to myself thinking “hey, this is not so bad, just remember that Ricky Martin song you learnt when you were 13 and you should start to make some new friends”. I land in Buenos Aires and….. it is cold. So, so cold.
The lady who has come to pick me up drags me down to kiss me on the cheek (Completely unexpected and awkward moment number 1, but pleasantly so, and I got used to it pretty quickly), and rushes away with my bags to the car. I wonder what the rush is, I realize it’s because it’s cold. We haven’t exchanged a word yet (I just pointed out to my name on the placard she was holding). So we’re in the car and I’m so stunned, happy, excited and want to share my excitement with her. I tune in to reality, square my shoulders, turn to her and say,
“Hola! mi nombre es Sagar”
She gives me a look as if I’m a particularly slow child, “Pero ya lo se querido, te estoy hablando hace casi 10 minutos y vos no me contestas y me dijeron que ya hablas espanol mas o menos y te estaba preguntando si llegaste bien y como fue el viaje y si te sentis frio y…”
That moment when you realize… you’re in it deep.
I didn’t catch a single word. Because folks, they don’t speak Spanish in Argentina, no no no. This infuriating, sweet, rambunctious variant on Spanish is called the Castellano Argentino and even though the vocabulary, words and grammar are the same as those you took in your high-school or through pop media, don’t be fooled. This is a language tied up in tango, romance, history, culture, Italian and the very peculiar characteristics that make up the country. To me though, at the time, it was highly depressing. I couldn’t understand a word, people barely understood my English, and apparently apart from Buenos Aires and a few scattered cities, the country was empty! Where are the people?! “Donde esta la gente Señora?” … “Que gente, mira tiene tanta gente en la calle, que mas queres?” You’ve got to be kidding me.
And why oh why do they speak so fast?
Cut to the small town where I couldn’t see a living creature for 20 blocks (Sunday afternoon, should’ve known better, but remember I’m from Mumbai) and I was afraid. There were so many differences to take in; from place, to population (or lack thereof), to language. I had to learn that the sound of a double-L is not “y” but “sh”. I had to learn that when someone calls me boludo, they don’t mean to be rude (not that I’m over sensitive), I had to learn to start saying “che” in every sentence and I had to understand the intricacies of Lunfardo. And… I had to learn that Argentinians don’t us tu, but vos (the voseo form).
I realized that as far as technical things are concerned I would have to build my vocabulary from scratch (and that that would change from country to country in Latin America). And by technical things I mean down to things like nuts, bolts, and screwdrivers. A lot of money is “mucha guita” and the delicious, delicious slice of beef is a “lomo”.
I had to keep in mind that I must use their expressions and vocabulary and not speak something I found in a dictionary. I must also avoid the trap of translating directly from English or Hindi (my native tongue) to Spanish, because in this very polite society, it ends up sounding very rude and pointed.
Through this ordeal, the friends I made while learning Spanish on Livemocha almost 2 years ago are there with me, through thick and thin (although they are not very happy that I am in Argentina, as Argentinians are considered to be very arrogant, and are the subject of many jokes in the rest of Latam, another surprise to me.) I’m a shy guy, Livemocha helped there, confidence in speaking to strangers, the ability to be OK with making mistakes, the simple beginner tools allowed me to develop confidence and I went over them again and again whenever I could when I started out in Argentina.
What are some memorable language blunders have you had?
There are so many cultural mistakes I made, so many weird situations I’ve been in but right now one comes to mind:
I’m in a restaurant, having lunch with my colleagues when a complete stranger walks up to me.
“Che, sos de la India, en serio?” “Dude, so, like are you really from India”
(Me, slightly alarmed but happy with my meat and cheese, nodding with my mouth full)
“Pero, la vaca es sagrada en la India, Si?” “But, isn’t the cow sacred in India?”
“Aaaaa, pero que porqueria!, carne Indu es sagrada pero la carne en Argentina no es!” “Oh, what nonsense, Indian meat is sacred, but not Argentinian meat!!” (Carne is also used to refer to women – meat) – and he just walked away leaving me completely nonplussed.
But all my colleagues around the table burst into laughter and that line has been useful many time after that.
Thanks for reading and enjoy your language learning experience!
A big thanks to Sagar for sharing his story. Have a story of moving from one culture to another and feeling a little linguistically lost? Share it with us. Submit your story to email@example.com for a chance to tell your story to the Livemocha community.