Under the Palapa “The rigours of Spanish”

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Unkind people are always asking me why I am not yet bilingual, and it hurts. My French teacher at boarding school when I was a boy would sigh and call me an amiable half-wit after listening to my translation of a few lines of Victor Hugo. It has been clear from the start that English and only English would be my lingua franca in this life.
But that is not to say I have completely given up, for my current wife of some 30 years chases me off to Spanish classes when she finds me hiding inside the cupboard.
Each time I go to these things I end up wearing the dunce hat, it seems. People who have never heard the language spoken appear to get the rules after a brief introduction by the happy teacher. I, on the other hand do not make him happy.
Mr. Fergus (not his real name), a retired Spanish instructor from Canada, opens his condo several times a week to teach the language he has loved so long. However, his face falls on catching sight of me as if he wished he taught Beginners’ Plumbing.
I dart past the others to get the one soft chair in his place. He has made his condo into an authentic hacienda, whereby everything is big, wooden and hard. To spend an hour there is akin to being on your knees in anguished confession.
The good news in all of this is that after a lesson, I feel as if I am bilingual, but only in the subject that Mr. Fergus taught that particular day. Of course I am usually unilingual by the time I reach home and have forgotten everything, but for awhile I walk the streets of our town babbling in Spanish. But I have had one or two upsets along the way.
For instance walking home after a very thorough lesson dealing with family figures, I was approached by a local who, noticing that I wore a watch, asked me “Qué hora?” which even I knew meant he was asking what time it was.
However I was so programmed to the family theme, I immediately said “Tengo dos hermanas,” or “I have two sisters.” This produced a look of consternation from the man in question, who must surely have thought he was talking to an imbecile.
I could not stop. “Tengo un tio” (“I have one uncle”). He began to move away from me. I felt something was wrong, so I kept saying things from the recent lesson, which made the poor guy flee. I have seen him several times since but when I wave at him he crosses the street and reverses his direction.
It is frustrating for someone like me who loves everything Mexican, or at least most things, but who cannot learn the language that comes so easily to many around me. I know there are others like me out there, but we are bashful.
People are always asking me to join groups. There are dozens of them sprouting up all the time. I won’t get into what they do because I am bound to upset someone, but there are lots.
I generally decline to join anything. People are always sneering, “What do you do every day?” Well, as the song goes, “Staying alive, staying alive.” I seem to be fully occupied in making it to tomorrow and then the next day, because frankly I am worried about the whole “dropping dead” thing. I love my 5 o’clock martini and then the mandatory bottle of Chablis through dinner followed by a “Sticky,” as an Australian friend of mine called an after-dinner Remy.
But here is the big thing. If you do that at night, you must have a regimen for the morning that will mend the previous night’s “kidney killer.”
So two glasses of water upon awakening, followed by a two-kilometre run along the malecon. Exercises on the way back. More water. Hot lemon water followed by tea with honey and yogurt with fruit, generally berries.
All will be good, or at least it is so far.
Copyright Christopher Dalton 2016


The Major’s Corner…An oldie from May of 2011.


The Major’s Corner… Romeo and Juliet at the club.


  1. Paul Calabrese Sr.

    Thank you so much for writing this Christopher.
    My name is Paul Calabrese and I have lived in Mexico for 29 years and I am embarrassed to say, I’m still lost with Spanish.
    Do you have any idea how many people give me that “look” I am so happy to read this you have no idea.
    I lived in PV for 7 years, then moved to Cancun were I now still reside.
    I have been to (3) schools and even flew to San Miguel and moved in with this beautiful Mexican family for 30 days of basic Spanish, at the end of the second week … Well let’s just say I was kindly asked to leave. I now know ( and have for a while ) that something in my tiny brain just won’t allow me to learn a second language.
    P.S. I also flunked French 6 years running.

    Again thank you sir.
    I am actually sitting here feeling better about myself.

  2. Martine

    I can relate to the kidney killer! Especially with you two around. Another enjoyable read. Thanks Chris.

  3. Jane Anne

    This certainly struck a chord and I’m sure there are many others like us. After many years of French in the Canadian school system I could never make myself understood in France or Quebec. How do you work into the conversation “the pen of my aunt is on the desk” or other like well-memorized phrases. Ignore the naysayers

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