Thursday, 3 February 2011

Should You Speak Spanish in Tenerife?

Do you need to be able speak some Spanish when visiting Tenerife? Not if you’re staying in a resort you don’t. Outside of the resorts is a very different story but that's another blog in itself.
The real question is should you attempt to speak Spanish when visiting Tenerife? My view is that the answer to that should be a resounding YES.

Answering people in any country in their own language, even if it’s only thanks, please, good morning etc isn’t only respectful, it usually means that you’ll get treated differently and suddenly that grumpy faced waiter becomes all smiley and charming…most of the time.

But we British can be wary of attempting it. Sometimes it’s because we’re a wee bit scared, sometimes it’s because we’re a bit embarrassed, sometimes we think we just sound funny and sometimes we’re worried about making mistakes and being thought of as stupid, especially if we’re in the company of someone who can actually speak a bit of Spanish.

There was a couple of instances in the last week which brought the last point home to me and made me think back to our first months on Tenerife.

Andy and I studied Spanish at night school at the Cervantes Centre in Manchester for a year before moving to Tenerife. The reality of trying to communicate for real in situ compared to in a classroom, even with a native Spanish speaker teacher, proved daunting. Our confidence, not helped by the fact that the words being spoken to us didn’t sound like the words spoken by our tutors, plummeted.

We found that we were at our worst when our friend Jo from La Gomera visited. Living on La Gomera, Jo has a good grasp of Canarian Spanish and when we visited restaurants and bars even here in the resort town of Puerto de la Cruz, we sort of clammed up and let her do all the talking as though we were afraid that we’d look foolish when we got it wrong.

Nowadays, whilst nowhere near as competent in Spanish as either of us would like to be, we’re less worried about making mistakes. We’re consciously incompetent in Spanish, but most of the time can ‘get it over the net’ and mostly understand when it’s returned…as long as it’s the words aren’t whizzing towards us. ‘Más despacio, por favor’ is a commonly used phrase.

Recently we’ve noticed the ‘Jo’ syndrome in reverse. On La Palma with two well travelled friends we realised that when it came to ordering, our friends sort of whispered what they wanted to us and left us to tell the waiter. These are confident, smart people who have travelled the world and managed to get by without a problem everywhere, but because we could speak some Spanish they deferred to us.

When we realised this we encouraged them to try ordering themselves. Unfortunately at the time we were in a busy workers' café at breakfast. As Linda ordered a ‘zumo naransha pekeena’ (zumo naranja pequeña - small orange juice) the waiter looked at her bemused; when she giggled at this, the bemusement turned to a glower. It wasn’t the most confidence inspiring reaction so might have been a bit counter productive, but usually on Tenerife people don’t react like that.

Jump forward to last weekend at the San Abad fiesta in La Matanza. We took our friend Bob up into the hills to witness this gathering of animals, farmers and caballeros. Bob visits Tenerife every winter and when it comes to Spanish he’s not afraid of getting it wrong. He will try to communicate with anyone and is more often than not rewarded with a smile. He’s a prime example of someone who has picked up a lot of Spanish words and isn’t afraid to try them out; subsequently people respond accordingly.

However the hills of La Matanza are way off the beaten track. If there were more than 5 non Canarios in the thousands of people at the fiesta I’d be surprised. Mostly it was just farmers and when it was Bob’s turn to squeeze in amongst the cowboy hat wearing and slightly merry locals at the makeshift guachinche, Bob thrust a five spot in my direction. Andy and I laughed and said ‘get out of here; you can speak enough Spanish to order.’
So Bob ordered some wine and then we ordered some food and another small carafe of wine. When we finished the barman placed a complimentary carafe of wine in front of us with a smile and when we finished that one he brought another. I’ve no doubt that it was because not only were we extranjeros who’d turned out on a dull and dreary day to see his fiesta, but also that all three of us had spoken to him in his own language.

And the moral of all this is: Try using a few Spanish words and you never know what the result will be. At the very least you will have a different experience of Tenerife from those who don’t.


1 comment:

Gary Rosson said...

I find this the most frustrating part of living on the island. I understand and read far more Spanish than I ever speak. I find myself 'clamming up' regularly as I know that even though what I am saying is correct (or pretty close) I rarely understand the replies.