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I don’t like to boast but my Spanish is pretty good. It’s usually OH with the transferable skills, unless you’re counting the syrup to vodka ratio in a Lychee Martini, or the required number of inside pockets to make a tote practical for a mother of young kids for everyday use. In this area of linguistic endeavour however, I win.
It might be because my first cleaning lady was Romanian. Of course I had no idea at the time that I employed her, because her name was Carmen and she spoke to me in Spanish. I just assumed she was being incredibly patient and her slow, clear annunciation, that was surprisingly easy to copy was a generous added extra to her suite of domestic services. It took me a while to figure out that my first teacher was a student who had only been learning for a year herself. Anyway, it showed me that:
A) it’s not that hard
B) people like you better if you at least try
So, I’m gonna give you a few essentials that will impress the people you meet when going about your business. Remember that whilst some sounds can be hard to pronounce in Spanish, all words read and spell as written, which as a novice, is a huge advantage over English.
1. Hasta luego- you probably know the word ‘adios’ but people don’t actually say it that much. The universal goodbye is said ‘asta looego’, more of a ‘see you later’. It is very difficult to pronounce well if you’re not Spanish or a consummate linguist but it is a phrase you could easily use 8 times a day, when leaving friends, leaving a shop, leaving any kind of appointment…
2. No pasa nada – literally ‘nothing happened’, it means don’t worry, that’s fine, it’s ok – the kind of space-filling platitude that is just so useful. Someone bumps into you, drop the British apology even when it is your fault, just say ‘no pasa nada’.
3. Una mesa para cuatro/dos/ocho por favour – ‘A table for 4/2/8 please.’ The easiest way of making a reservation without knowing how to conjugate the verb ‘to reserve’ or pronounce the word for reservation!!
4. Chao – This is not the Italian ciao. This is our own Spanish chao that also means goodbye. It is particularly useful on the phone. Again, no need to hang up with a ‘Bye’, nicer and cooler with a chao.
5. Question: Algo más? Answer: No, nada más or just no gracias – I have seen countless non Spanish speakers befuddled at a deli counter with this. They get through the cheese choosing and salami sourcing with pointing and thumb finger movements to indicate quantity but when all the items of the shopping list are ticked off and the charcutera says ‘algo mas’, the non-Spanish speaker freezes. Is the answer yes or no? Further complicated by the other option which is for the charcutera to say ‘todo?’ This means ‘is that all?’, which of course requires the opposite answer. So note this, when you have finished shopping:
Q: algo mas?
A: no nada más
You can say gracias after both these answers but you really don’t need to. English and particularly British English requires a lot of politesse. The Spanish don’t stand on ceremony. If you’re courteous and polite, they know you mean thank you.
Be brave and try! Before long you’ll be like me, screaming words of pain exclusively in Spanish in Ibiza’s private hospital during childbirth.