Article after stupid article cites “communication” as the key to a healthy, long-lasting relationship. Well, what happens when you speak pretty-good-but-not-perfect Spanish and your boyfriend speaks pretty-amazing-almost-perfect-but-not English? You take a step back, friends, and remember what their native language is and that rude comment might not really be so rude after all.
When we first started dating, Mario commented on that I was, and I quote, “más grande” than him. In case you no speak-o the Espanish-o, that means “bigger.” Uh, chyeah. I was having about 0% of that! I immediately freaked out and harrumphed around until he asked what he’d done to warrant such icy inane behavior. In between sighs I managed to tell him, “You called me fat. Or at least it felt like you did.” So yeah, you may be thinking I’m a crazy girl, but whatever – no one wants to be told they’re bigger, am I right? Turns out poor Mario only meant taller, which – hey – I am. (By about an inch, bee tee dubs.) But he learned a little somethin’ somethin’ then. In English, it’s much less acceptable to call someone bigger than you, especially if that someone is an overly sensitive girlfriend. In Spain, sometimes people comment on weight without all that guilty, oh my gosh, so-and-so is calling Jane faaaaaat! It’s just a comment and fat is not a dirty word, like it can be here. So, I remember that now, and when someone commented that I was “smaller” this year, I just grinned and agreed. ‘Cause, ya know, they weren’t saying I was fat last year. Not at all.
Other lessons we’ve learned:
- I can’t finish off sentences with “…o qué?” Unlike in English, it can sound rather rude. I often ask friends, “Did you want to go here…or what?” and I count on them not thinking I’m a demanding little you-know-what. But Mario’s looking out for me; he doesn’t want me to spout off such phrases and have people avoid the mean American girl with a smart mouth.
- Mario often says “It’s okay” for “No pasa nada.” It sounds fine, but you know how when someone apologizes everyone says, “It’s okay” (even if it’s totally not okay)? Well, sometimes people can think he’s pardoning them and, uh, they don’t need pardoning! So I advised him to stick with, “It’s no big deal” or “Don’t worry about it.” (Perhaps we’re overly picky?)
- Don’t laugh (aloud) when your partner slips up. At least not all the time. I don’t mind him laughing when I want to say “preservatives” and instead say “condom” (=preservativos in Spanish). But when I mess up the subjunctive for the 110th time, just shut it. For both our sakes. I also apologize often for thinking it’s insanely adorable when he accidentally uses double negatives, a habit I abhor in native speakers. (Hypocrite much?)
- Your significant other doesn’t have the cultural background you do. So Mario doesn’t remember TGIF or trapper keepers or ring pops or know how to play MASH (ugh, I had to teach him that one!). Sometimes, it’s annoying to have to explain who Patty Mayonnaise is, but most of the time it’s hilariously fun!
- Learning from each other is really fun if you just lighten up. So what if I used the male adjective to describe myself? Whatever. I think Mario knows I’m not a man…plus, learning what mistakes he makes helps me to be a better teacher – I understand what slip-ups are common and can readily address them instead of being surprised by them.
- We don’t have to choose a language. We speak English, then Spanish, back to English and maybe some Spanglish. It’s jut how we roll. We spent a lot of time in London with me speaking English and him Spanish. We got weird looks, but hey, that’s just us.
- Hearing Espain instead of Spain will never get old – to me. Maybe to Mario, but to me? Please keep your accent forever. But um, let me get rid of mine. Please?