Archive | November, 2013

Three accomplishments in five years

Posted on 10 November 2013 by American expat!

Having just passed my five year anniversary here, I thought I’d sum up what I might call accomplishments. There aren’t many, three to be exact. But their impact is big!

1. I can finally converse on the phone in Spanish without complete bewilderment.

The lack of body language and facial expression combined with the softening of articulatory consonants that speaking into and listening through a device induces had me avoiding phone calls at all costs for the longest time. A Pavlovian panic response still clutches me when an unfamiliar number rings my phone, or when I realize I will have to initiate a phone call that will be entirely in Spanish myself, but recently I have been able to quell the panic and go ahead and take or make the call, because thankfully, after five years,  I am not at a 100% loss as to what the other person is saying over the cellular waves. It might be only a 25% loss of comprehension, but that is manageable. Unless the person speaks quickly or mumbles, then I’m screwed.

2. I no longer give up when a security guard tells me something is “closed”.

You would think that walking into a shop or office 30 minutes or even 15 minutes before a posted closing time would be a non event. But here it is an entirely different story. Despite the posted closing hours, any shop, supermarket or office will try to pull the “nope, we are closed” business on you in their frantic rush to be out the door by the time the clock strikes the closing hour. The best and most common example of this are supermarket that close at 9:15pm (yes, this is a real posted closing time). You saunter in at 20:55, and the harried checkers immediately will yell at you that they are closed, trying to wave you back out the door with one arm as the other scans merchandise. In the case of larger supermarkets or shopping centers however, it isn’t as easy as pointing at your wrist, scowling and saying  “20 minutes!” as you stride right past the the fuming checkers. This is because there is alway a security guard or portero (basically a doorman) blocking you, telling you to beat it, the place is closed.

I used to feebly protest, pointing to the clock while the guard looked at me cooly and shook his head and squared his shoulders. But I have come to learn that there is a certain amount of banter that is just might get yourself through the door. It is a mixture of groveling that you only need that one thing, that you left work early and this is the third time you are trying to get into this store on time but it is always closing early, along with debating logically that they have to let you in because they aren’t really allowed to be closing this early, that they are obligated to stay open until at least ten minutes before they close, come on, 30 minutes is ridiculous and they aren’t even busy…not that the guard will ever let you in, but occasionally someone else in the office or shop will witness the encounter and, having nothing else to do for 20 minutes, will tell the guard to allow you through. When this happens, it feels like my birthday. If my birthday made me younger, not older. OK bad analogy.

3. I know never to ask an employee to do anything right before lunch or closing time

Getting anyone to do anything besides the easiest of their regular tasks is nothing short of a struggle.  The best comparison I have is the DMV. You know how getting your registration fees adjusted, waiving fees, passing tests and even having the “correct paperwork” is all dependent upon the person who happens to be helping you? Just imaging that, but in every possible customer service outlet: banks, restaurants, shops, phone companies (especially phone companies!) utilities, electricians–you name it (remember this video?). This is especially true if it happens to be right before lunchtime or closing time. I have been told to return with additional paperwork that proved to be unneeded, directed to offices that when I showed up, had no idea why I was told to go there, been hung up on and been flat out told “No” on more occasions that I want to remember. Strategically scheduling visits to not occur before lunch or closing time doesn’t eliminate the problem, but it has reduced the number of times I get lied to, turned away, redirected or hung up on. And I’ll take any small victory I can get.

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