We all know what weirdos foreigners are. In the UK I have seen a Chinese teenager eat a pizza slice with chopsticks. I’ve had an Eastern European ask me “where is the willy?” (I never did figure that one out). And I’ve seen Japanese people with face masks, gloves, massive floppy hats etc.. in a useless attempt to protect themselves from anything other than pure oxygen landing on their skin or entering their orifices.
In South America I am one of those weird foreigners and, you know what? It’s kind of fun.
I have been making an attempt to learn Spanish whilst travelling in South America. I think it is really important when going to another country to try and speak a few words in the local language which is what I have been doing here. Needless to say, I speak slowly and like an idiot. One of the funniest things I find about foreigners is the way they talk, sometimes getting tenses wrong or saying the wrong word (like the Eastern European asking me about the willy) or having a funny accent.
Having spent the last eight weeks at a high elevation mosquitoes have not been an issue. However, yesterday I came to the Ecuadorian coast so one of the first things I did upon arrival was head to a pharmacy to buy some bug spray.
My Spanish is fairly limited and unfortunately when I entered the pharmacy the only words I knew for certain I knew was the word for “I need…necesito“. I didn’t know the word for bug spray, mosquito or repellent. One of the best ways to learn a language is to use what you know and improvise the rest. I think I’m fairly good at doing this.
The pharmacies I have been to in South America pretty much always have everything behind a counter so it means you have to ask for what you want, you can’t simply peruse the shelves and work it out for yourself.
Entering the pharmacy yesterday I confidently strode up to the desk and said ” necesito…I need” I then did an imaginary spray on my arm making a spray noise at the same time and said “por mosquito“. I then did a big smile which universally puts people on your side. I felt like mosquito might be mosquito in Spanish too. It turns out mosquito is mosquito in Spanish but my accent (or perhaps acting) is seemingly so bad the two women behind the counter didn’t know what I meant.
I am not easily defeated so I carried on “necesito defender de…I need defence from” my mind was working quickly to try and work out how I could describe a mosquito with my limited language skills. I came up with “animales pequeños…small animals”.
Understandably this warranted me some confused looks from the ladies. I had just walked into a pharmacy and asked for a defence against small animals so I could hardly blame them for the looks on their faces.
Scanning the shelves behind them I was desperately looking for some bug spray so I could use the best technique of communication I have in my repertoire- the point. And, at last, I found it and so I pointed with that lovely index finger I have.
“Ah mosquito” exclaimed the pharmacist. I smiled whilst thinking, wasn’t that what I just said?
So, there we have it. A tale of a silly foreigner saying something ridiculous. I imagine those ladies at a family gathering telling the tale of when a pale, sweaty gringa walked into their shop and asked for a defence against small animals and them all having a jolly good laugh at it.
The best thing is, that I don’t even mind. I think it’s rather hilarious too.
*this post is dedicated to my readers in Kyrgyzstan, you guys rock!