SPANISH, CHAPTER 2: The Pressure

The Buller Pub Crew out in Palermo, Buenos Aires, Argentina

The honeymoon is over and it’s time to start bearing down. I’ve been able to penetrate some Argentine social circles and now its time to actually build relationships. I’m decent with salutations (Hellos, goodbyes, etc.) but where the conversation goes from there is anyones guess. I’m also okay with the “where are you from?” and “what are you doing here?” and other basic questions, If spoken clearly. Now, I need to get beyond that and actually interact and have successful conversations that don’t begin mediocre and end in a frustrated look, blank stare or confused customer.

Anyone who tells you they learned a language in 3 months is full of shit (I hope). Okay, if they moved to a foreign country with a ton of college experience or were in intensive language courses for the 3 months I can see how they could manage. I’ve taken classes and for the most part surrounded myself with Spanish speaking people and places thus far but it feels like I know nothing. Sure, I can get by at restaurants and directions and day-to-day stuff but in order to reach my goal of becoming a townie I have to step my bilingual game up.

Almost everyday someone tells me, “man you just have to learn Spanish”. Oh, That’s it? Great. Good Idea.

So Let’s break down where “The Pressure” is coming from:

FRIENDS: I’ve met a lot of great Argentine and Colombian people thus far. Definitely people I consider friends for life. Although, most of whom speak English to some degree, It would be much easier for everyone if I could understand all their conversations. I feel bad when we’re at a party or something and they have to translate stuff for me. Knowing the language will also allow me to learn so much more about the culture and way of life.

WOMEN: A wink and a smile gets you in the door but in order to sit down for dinner you have to speak the language. Language barriers make closing an issue, plain and simple. It’s funny at first… “haha, how cute he’s trying to speak Spanish!” That wears off quickly and it just becomes annoying. However, this one isn’t completely lost. I’ve always believed that body language is highly underrated. I think the best pick-up line is one that doesn’t involve any words, just some solid eye contact. However, like in the friends category, in order to build deeper relationships I’ve got to speak the Spanish and not just French.

This category isn’t all bad however. There are some upsides to not knowing the language. For example, I make the perfect boyfriend, think about it. I’m a great listener and I don’t talk much. I am interested in everything they say because I have to pay attention or else I’ll be lost. It’s not like back in the States where I could zone in and out of a conversation aimlessly.

WORK: This is definitely where I am feeling the most pressure to improve my Spanish speaking ability. Drinks and food I can handle for the most part. People usually just point to what they want to eat and the drinks are all in English. Random questions and recommendations are difficult. I say “si” or “no” for anything I don’t understand (many of which don’t merit a yes or no answer). I’ve given people the check when they asked for a pen. A pen when they wanted the menu. And a menu when they wanted check. SIDE NOTE: People from Spain speak very fast and I can’t understand Brazilian’s Portuguese-Spanish Accents.

All this stuff I can handle, the real pressure comes from the staff. Currently, there’s one person on the staff who speaks English, Natalia. She is the one who trained me and has been like a mother at the bar. She translates everything my bosses need from me and has been there in case anyone speaks too fast. She’s also the one who teaches me dirty words to say to the guys in the kitchen when they pick on me. SIDE NOTE:Every time I go into the kitchen the guys ask me random questions (I don’t understand) and laugh when I can’t answer them. The most popular one for awhile was “Do you like transvestites?” (trabas).

With all that being said, yesterday, she told me that she will be leaving in one week for a new job. I couldn’t do anything but laugh thinking about what the next few months will be like. Talk about jumping in head first. The only other bartender I work with is a pregnant turkish-argentine girl who speaks super fast and repeats the same thing (louder) if I don’t understand. True story.

All-in-all though I think it will for sure be a struggle at first but definitely will improve my Spanish (there’s really no other option). “I have to spread my wings sometime” I told her.

Nati & I @ Buller Christmas Party in Recoleta

With every problem comes a solution (or at least a game plan):

– I’ve decided January & February is official “Learn Spanish Months”. I am going to focus the majority of my time, energy and money on doing exactly that. I plan on putting off Brazil and use any funds for classes. Carnival will be there next year, this opportunity may not.

– I’m going to find out all the programs in the city and weigh the options of taking intensive group classes. Based on funds.

– I bring a notebook to work every night with words and phrases I hear and try to learn. Although, everyone there teaches me bad words, they are words none-the-less.

– When Sergio & Mariangela get back from Mexico and Colombia we made a deal where there is no more English spoken in the apartment (maybe the patio though).

– More Spanish music and movies (with Spanish lyrics and subtitles).

– Eat Spanish rice at least twice a week.


My name is Gareth Leonard, a Marketing Director turned World Traveler with a passion for slow, meaningful travel. I have been traveling the world full-time for the past 9+ years and document it all on Instagram and YouTube. Come join me!

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