chat, chatting (v): to talk in a friendly and informal way.
I love to chat. I really do. Chatting over drinks, chatting at dinner, chatting in between classes—it’s a great way to pass time and get to know people.
Now, I’m going to stop right there. At least half of you are already thinking about how much you hate chatting. You’re remembering that awkward dinner party you dragged your girlfriend/boyfriend to last week, because your co-worker from your new job invited you and how bad could it be to hang out with some cubicle buddies outside of the office? But it was awful; all anyone chatted about was the weather and 50 Shades of Grey and your date got too drunk and threw up in the trash can and now no one in the office wants to chat with you at all. Or something. And if that is indeed what you’re thinking, I’m sorry you had such a rough Wednesday night, but stick with me here.
I love chatting not for the mundane weather talk and generic questions, but for the a-ha! moments of things found in common. The guy with the weird mustache from your Psych 101 class quotes a line from your favorite comedian. The girl who works in the cubicle next to yours mentions a friend you’ve known since kindergarten. You and some kid across the room make a pun at the same time. The a-ha moment usually ends in a high-five, a shout of joy, and/or a shared look like holy crap, we are AWESOME. (If you’re looking for an a-ha moment, stand next to me at a party and mention any of the following things: second-string Harry Potter characters, mogul skiing, Christopher Nolan movies, dystopian fiction, feminism, Louis CK’s stand-up career, English as a legitimate college degree, this blog.)
The thing is that up until about a month ago, all of my chatting happened in English. I have to say I never realized how convenient that was.
Being a naturally chatty person in a country that doesn’t speak your native language feels a little bit like being trapped in a glass box. The box could not be in a better location—you’re in the middle of this amazing Spanish city filled with gorgeous statues and apartment buildings and mountainous views—and you can see everything around you perfectly. You can hear everything. The food’s great, too. But every time you have a thought that’s more complicated than my name is Hannah or I would like some more bread please, it’s difficult to share with the people outside of the box. You have to think about what you want to say ahead of time, pull out a dictionary, and make a little conversation plan before you speak. Even then, sometimes the glass is too thick. The people outside furrow their brows and look at you like you’ve just asked them to dance with their pants on backwards.
This is my first time living in the glass box. Words have taken on a new weight. I’ve realized that my opinions aren’t nearly as important as I once thought they were. I can say zero coherent things for an entire day, and the world will just keep on spinning. Who knew, right?
In spite of my mediocre grasp on the Spanish language, my inner chatty self still loves to try to whip up conversation. So I make a lot of toddler-like observations.
- “Que frío!” – How cold it is today! This one slips out a lot, even though the “frío” here doesn’t hold a candle to the “frío” back home in New Hampshire. (Stay strong, guys!)
- “Muchos perros, no?” – Lots of dogs, huh? We were walking to our car from Tia Estela’s house in a neighborhood outside the city and a tiny dog started barking at us from behind a gate. Then a lot of other dogs started barking. I felt the need to comment.
- “Es muy… malo.” – It’s very…bad. This one comes up a lot when discussing the intricacies of Spanish politics.
- “Que rico!” – Very rich, or very delicious. Uttered every day around 3PM when Beatriz conjures 2-3 plates full of bread/meat/fish/tomatoes slathered in olive oil, and even in English I’m not sure I could come up with the words to tell her how grateful I am.
Sometimes I’m not even sure what my host family could say in response to my riveting commentary. Sí Hannah, there are a lot of dogs here! They usually just nod and smile, because they’re wonderful and understanding. They’ve definitely gotten comfortable correcting my Spanish. And the other night, I gave my host dad a little English lesson myself.
“Fart?” Javier asked at the dinner table, trying the word on for size.
“Sí, fart,” I answered, with extra emphasis on the hard English “r.”
“Fart,” Javier said again. He pointed to the bowl full of sautéed cauliflower in front of me. “This food has mucho farts,” he nodded. “Mucho farts.”
It was a relief to learn that even the glass box couldn’t keep out the farts.
So yeah, sometimes I have to deal with the fact that I can’t be chatty for a few hours. But I am so lucky to be here, in this place, with these people. And every day the walls of the glass box get a little bit thinner. Words come faster. I only have to ask Beatriz to repeat herself twice, instead of the usual three times or four. Poco a poco.
The Spanish a-ha moments are coming guys, I can feel it. I’ll let you know when they get here. #hannahandjulieabroad