I learned a great deal in my high school Spanish classes, not the least of which was a handy amount of conversational Spanish. One of the best lessons I learned, though, was a two-parter: 1. Embarrassing language mistakes happen, no matter how hard you work to avoid them; and 2. Embarrassing language mistakes are often hilarious, and it’s far better to laugh at yourself than to be embarrassed. This is a story about that.
Spanish, like all languages, has its own colloquialisms. One word can mean any number of different things. The word in question today is caliente. At its most basic, it translates to “hot.” However (and this is another thing I learned in high school Spanish), among native speakers, it’s more commonly used to mean “hot and bothered”/”excited”/”all worked up” — in an adult sense, if you get my drift (and I think you do) — than it is to describe the temperature of something. This is an important fact to remember if you wish to avoid making an embarrassing language mistake. It is also a very easy fact to forget when you’re in a hotel lobby in Barcelona, having a conversation with the front desk clerk, trying to scrape up whatever vocabulary you can from high school and college Spanish classes after it’s sat dormant in the corner of your brain for the better part of six years.
Which brings us to October 2010, in a hotel lobby in Barcelona, where Tim and I, exhausted after a full day wherein I had tried to show Tim all my favorite things about the city I’d spent six weeks in six years earlier, tried to determine whether the hotel had a hot tub in which we could soak our tired muscles.
In retrospect, I don’t know why we didn’t just go to the pool area and see for ourselves rather than trying to ask the nice woman at the front desk. I’m glad we didn’t, though, because if we had, then I wouldn’t have this embarrassing story for us all to laugh at now.
So. Back to the lobby. I’m trying to inquire at the front desk whether the hotel has a hot tub, but it’s been a long time since I’ve really used my Spanish, and I can’t remember the word for “hot tub.” Honestly, I’m not sure I ever knew the word to begin with. So I go for the next best thing and attempt to describe the term that’s missing from my vocabulary — like a one-sided game of Catch Phrase in which the person who knows she’s playing doesn’t speak the language, and the other player is very confused but trying very patiently to help the crazy rambling American. It went a little bit like this:
Me: In this hotel, do you have a “hot tub”? [In which the entire sentence was in Spanish, except the term “hot tub,” which I said in English.]
Front Desk Clerk: [Blank stare to indicate she has no idea what a hot tub is.]
Me: [Again with the Spanish] It’s like a swimming pool, only more…hot.
Front Desk Clerk: [Gives me an odd look and assures me that the hotel does not have any such amenity.]
We returned to our room and swim-suited up, thinking that even a non-hot swimming pool would feel pretty good on our muscles. When we arrived at the pool and discovered that there was, indeed, a hot tub, I reflected on our lobby conversation and realized my mistake.
See, when I asked for a hot swimming pool, I didn’t really say “hot,” not in the correct sense, anyway. What I said was “caliente,” which you’ll remember from a few paragraphs above has an entirely different meaning than the one I intended.
Basically, I asked for a horny swimming pool.
No wonder the woman at the front desk was so confused.
(A list of status updates I might have posted to Facebook during the first half of this month if I could have been bothered to glance at a computer.)
October 3: Sharing a pitcher of Sangria with my husband at a beach-side cafe in Barcelona. Life is good.
October 8: Drinking delicious wine at a Tuscan villa. Loving every minute.
October 9: Everyone and their brother is in Rome. Holy cow. The parts of the city we can see through the crowd are beautiful.
October 10: Hiked Mt. Vesuvius today — completely amazing. Pompeii is bigger and better than I ever imagined. Delicious pizza and beer in Naples were the perfect end to our favorite day so far.
October 11: If we had to have a rainy day, at least it’s a day at sea. Perfect day to relax by the (indoor) pool with the latest Dexter novel.
October 12: When the smell hits your nose like some old stinky toes, that’s a-Venice!
October 13: I think Gob Bluth could give the ship’s magician a run for his money.
October 14: Dubrovnik would be a cool place to explore if not for the nonstop torrential downpour. On the bright side, we are now the proud owners of a plaid Croatian umbrella.
October 15: Great shopping, yummy beer, tasty chicken in kumquat sauce, and some cool ruins to explore…we’re definitely going to need to come back to Greece someday.
October 17: Ping pong takes on a whole new level of difficulty when you add a little sea breeze to the equation.
October 18: Reluctantly returning to reality after what was truly the best vacation ever.
What follows is a brief summary of some awesome things that have happened in my life lately (and awesome things that happened not-so-recently that I just never got around to writing about ).
1. This one time, my friend RA came to town and we had dinner together. She is every bit as adorable as you’d imagine. I was pleased to be there to witness her husband’s first taste of New Belgium beer, though I was sorry to have missed seeing her shoot tequila out of a hollowed-out lime peel.
2. Another time, my friend Gary came to town, which is always awesome. Making this visit extra awesome, he helped Tim and I recreate the moment we first met. It went a little something like this:
Top row: Cheers!
Bottom left: Mmmm….cheap vodka!
Bottom right: Several shots later, we are too drunk to hold our own heads up.
3. A couple weeks ago, my niece came to visit, and Tim and I got to test our toddler-chasing skills for an entire weekend. We learned a lot that weekend, mostly that slides at the park are fun, but few things are funnier than having your Aunt Audrey hold you so you can reach to turn off the light switch every time she turns it on. Over. And over. And over. Man, was that light switch trick hilarious.
4. This past weekend, I had a dance competition. I was in a tap dance and a jazz dance, and we took home gold medals in both. I was hoping for platinum, but gold is pretty darn good. Like last year, though, the best part of the weekend was the full day of classes the day after competition. They went so much better than last year. I’m not sure if the classes were easier this year, if my skills have improved, or some combination of the two, but either way it was awesome to survive four hours of challenging classes without feeling completely out of my league. Plus I can walk today, which is not something I could do (at least not well, owing to the excruciating muscle pain) at this time last year.
I have another competition next month, where, in addition to the two dances I did this weekend, I’ll also have a tap duet with my good friend Colette. We just started working on it, and it’s shaping up to be a really cool dance. Here’s hoping it’s cool enough to bring home a platinum award!
5. By far, the awesomest thing to happen recently was making a deposit on the most amazing vacation. This fall, we’re going on an incredible Mediterranean cruise with stops in Italy, Croatia, and Greece. And for three days before the cruise…..drumroll please….we’re going to Barcelona!!! I am so excited to go back to Barcelona and revisit all my favorite parts of the city with Tim. It’s been over a month since the details of the trip were finalized and I still get so excited thinking about how great it’s going to be that I can hardly sit still. It’s going to be amazing.
So, that’s what’s happening in my life. Maybe, if we’re lucky, I’ll manage to post a couple more times between now and the big cruise.
June 23, 2004, Somewhere over France — More Delays! Had to wait for luggage removal before take-off, and now won’t even land in Madrid until 6:50. Have ISA meeting at hotel at 7:00, which I will miss — hopefully not completely…I’ve now been traveling for over 24 hours and will be at least 6 1/2 hrs later to Madrid than planned…Itinerary says we’re taking a bus tour of the city after the 7:00 mtg. but no time is specified. I really hope I don’t miss it.
I made the bus tour, but just barely. My flight from Minneapolis to Amsterdam had been delayed nearly 5 hours, leaving me plenty of layover time in the Amsterdam airport to scribble madly in my travel journal about everything that had happened in the past forty-eight hours. I’d said tearful goodbyes to my parents and fiance, gotten on a plane, and flown half-way around the world, where I’d remain for the next two months; I was smart enough to bring a change of clothes and some nail polish in my carry on — nothing feels more refreshing at the tail end of a 24+ hour journey than clean clothes and purple toenails; I’d gotten my first Euros out of an ATM and used them at the airport Burger King; and I’d had to figure out how I was going to get to the hotel once I landed Madrid, since all the delays meant I’d arrive in Madrid long after the last International Studies Abroad-sponsored airport shuttle had departed. Deep breaths. I could do this.
When I arrived in Madrid, I thankfully had little trouble finding a shuttle to take me to the hotel. I found the ISA group right away and had just enough time to toss my suitcase in my room and freshen up the tiniest bit before running back downstairs to hop on the bus. My adventure was officially beginning.
On the elevator ride back up to my room after the bus tour, I watched as other ISA students peeled off at their various floors and wondered whose belongings I’d seen during the 5 minutes I’d been in my room earlier. I didn’t have to wonder long. A very cute (I actually described her in my journal as being “cute as a button,” I kid you not) , petite girl with short, dark hair got off at the same floor as me, and we ended up walking to the same door.
“Guess we’re roommates.” I said with a shy smile. “I’m Audrey.”
She smiled back warmly. “Audrey? Hi, I’m Aubri. Want to go find some dinner?”
We ventured out of the hotel on foot in search of a cafe, both amazed at the amount of daylight remaining at almost 10:00 pm. As we puzzled over translating the menu — I ordered a safe ham sandwich, Aubri ordered something our dictionaries translated only as loin (it turned out to be pork) — we chatted and laughed and found out we had more similarities than our names. Neither of us had come directly from our homes. I’d come straight from San Diego, where I’d attended my brother’s first wedding; she’d come from Israel, where she’d been visiting her parents who were living abroad. We both had several years of Spanish classes under our belts, and we couldn’t wait to get to Barcelona and meet our host families. Aubri’s primary goal for the trip was to meet a guy with a scooter and ride around the city with him. We would spend a great deal of time in the weeks to come speculating and joking about Scooter Boy.
The next day we were up early for delicious hotel breakfast — churros, meats, cheeses, pastires — what I’d soon learn was the typical breakfast in Euro hotels. Then more bus tours, museums, incluing the Prado and the Mueso Reina Sofia, where I got to see in person some of the paintings I’d leared about in high school Spanish. I came face-to-face for the first time with Dali and Picasso paintings, including Guernica, one of my all-time favorite Picassos, and was introduced to the incredible work of El Bosco (a.k.a. Hieronymus Bosch). It was amazing, but exhausting.
After a full day of playing tourist, a group of us found a cab and went to a cafe across the plaza from the royal palace. It was a beautiful night, and I remeber that the restaurant was packed with well-dressed theatre-goers. As we perused the menu, Yeolanda suggested we share a pitcher of sangria. There, dining under the stars at that beautiful cafe, surrounded by beautiful strangers and lovely new friends, feeling simultaneously exhausted and exhilirated, I had my first taste of sangria. It was love at first sip.
Last week in tap class, my teacher stopped randomly in the middle of warm-up and told us she had to tell us about some things she’d seen. Disturbing things. Things nobody should have to see in this day and age.
Everyone gasped in horror when she said the word. We shook our heads in disbelief when she told us she’d seen this appalling hairstyle not once, but twice in recent weeks. Others stepped forward and admitted that they, too, had seen a mullet or two around town. This was not, it appeared, a single sighting that could be written off as an isolated incident. No, unfortunately, this looks to be the beginning of a trend.
Take a deep breath. Step away from the computer for a minute if you need to. I know this is very upsetting news. Take all the time you need to pull yourself together.
Better? Okay, let’s continue.
I am sad to say that I’m not terribly surprised by this. When I studied abroad in Spain back in 2004, I noticed the trend there. Mullets were everywhere. I saw every variation of mullet imaginable — dread-lock mullets, multi-colored mullets, curly, straight, crimped — in those 6 weeks in Barcelona I saw more business-in-front, party-in-back than I ever cared to.
It wasn’t just mullets, either. The entire 80s decade seemed to be back in full force in Spain. My friends and I would go shopping, excited to take advantage of the big summer sales, and walk away from the shops completely mystified by what we’d seen. Leggings. Plastic bangles. Hot colors. Shoulder pads. I even saw — I kid you not — an entire display of those plastic rings that we used to use to tie our oversized T-shirts off to the side. It was . . . unsettling.
Those 80s trends were sneaky, too. You’d be shopping, innocently admiring some unusual-yet-vaguely-familiar thing, trying to decide whether it was cute enough to try on. You’d pick it up, turn it over in your hand once or twice. And then you’d realize where that vaguely familiar feeling was coming from and recoil in shock. You’d seen this exact fashion piece before — in pictures of yourself from 3rd grade. The type of pictures that are so hideous and embarrassing your parents threaten to bring them out on prom night. Immediately upon realizing this, you’d drop whatever hideous 80s trend you were holding, refusing to admit that you ever considered trying it on, and exit the store as quickly as possible.
It was not good. I know I’ve never been a very fashion-forward person, but I do know enough about trends to know that what is trendy in Europe is very likely to make its way over to the states at some point. I sent postcards home to my friends, warning them about the imminent return of the 80s — a decade of fashion that I think we can all agree should never be repeated. But I knew it wouldn’t do any good. I knew it was only a matter of time before the 80s crimped their hideous way back across the Atlantic.
That time, I fear, is upon us. We’ve all seen the direction of the trends lately — leggings, leg warmers, side ponytails. And now, the worst of all things 80s — mullets. I don’t know what to do. I don’t know how this could have happened. I thought we were all smarter than that. That we’d learned a thing or two from that horribly ugly decade. That we knew better than to be duped into ever repeating anything as disastrous as mullets.
But apparently I thought wrong. The mullet, it would appear, has returned. And, y’all, it is not pretty.