Monday, August 3, 2009

L'Auberge Espagnole

In the movie L'Auberge Espagnole, a French engineering student named Xavier goes to study for a year in Barcelona. He moves into a cluttered and chaotic house of Europeans. They speak a hodge-podge of different languages and constantly get in each other's way, fall in love, and then annoy each other. At times it all seems rather dramatic. Then again, this is all just part of the learning/growing/travel experience, n'est pas?

Here in Cartagena, life often feels a bit like L'Auberge Espagnole. I am the only American in my program, and am constantly surrounded by either Europeans or Colombians. We have people from Russia, Ukraine, Poland, the Czech Republic, Germany, Canada, and the US. The girls from England and Slovenia left right after I arrived here. Everyone speaks English, Spanish, or both, so communication isn't really a problem at all. That being said, some cultural exchanges will always inevitably be lost in translation.

I was talking to my roomate Anezka the other night. She said what I thought was, "I want to buy some yearbooks."
I knew this probably couldn't be what she meant, so I asked, "Yearbooks, really?"
"No, no, ear blocks."
"Ohhhh...ear plugs."
"Yes, that is what I said."
Main bien sur.

Thomas is another exchange participant whom I adore. Like Anezka, he hails from the Czech Republic. One time in a cab, I was commenting on the fact that I was getting annoyed at people who kept telling me I had to go to the beach to work on my tan.
"Ah, yes," said Thomas. "You are like...what is her name...? Snow White."
"Haha, yeup," I said.
"And here in Cartagena, you are going to find your seven dwarves."

It's true that most Colombian men tend to be on the shorter side, but the idea of seven Colombian dwarves following me around singing 'hi ho, hi ho, hi ho,' was absolutely riduclous...and hilarious. In another episode of 'Thoughts: By Thomas,' we went to a restaurant for lunch, and Thomas was remarking on the design of the placemat. The design was an abstract graphic of a woman with a large afro and various shapes and musical instruments coming out of her hair. Thomas asked, "What are all these things coming out of her hair? It looks very dirty. She should really use Head and Shoulders." He was kidding, but for some reason these comments strike me as ten times funnier when they come from non-native speakers.

Here all languages seem to mix up a little bit more every day. Last week Anezka taught me a Czech drinking song. I can greet people in Russian and Polish. I needed to consult the Colombian teachers today on how to explain English grammar, because I didn't know the rules for when to use a negative in a certain construction. Pretty soon I'll have to read 'Gramatica de Ingles por Dummies,' which is sitting in the office of Centro Colombo, where I teach. Life here is definitely an unusual hodge-podge, and if I begin to start forgetting English a bit...well...that's okay with me.