The year my husband and I lived in Santiago, Chile, we rubbed elbows with locals who sought to amaze us with their English mastery. Evan and I would walk hand in hand through a park and a young man would bellow, “F$%#!” a couple of times. His friends would whistle and clap with delight. He’d give a broad smile and launch his Groucho Marx hubba-hubba eyebrows at us, like Cool, huh? I know English! I discovered although I’m not opposed to swearing, it was intimidating and a little scary to hear the f-bomb performed unexpectedly in a throaty yell. In the US, someone would curse like that if they were really mad, really drunk, a bit unstable…or trying to impress their teenage friends (all of the above). In Chile, the last one seemed to apply. Truthfully, I was swearing similarly in Spanish when studied in España at 20 years old. Ah, the Circle of Life!
Sneak peek from my book Supergringa in Spain: A Travel Memoir:
My junior year of high school I decided I was a feminist. Feminists could swear like sailors if they wanted. Well, not in front of my dad. In Minneapolis, I began cursing in Spanish to get around the ladylike confines of my vocabulary. Words I would avoid in English, I’d relish in Spanish: mierd@, ching*%$ (sh#t, F*%$). Ah, my secret language; me and 400 million people in Latin America in 1985. But who’s counting? I began to swear in Spanish every time I tripped, spilled my beverage, or got mad at my sister. I was very busy practicing Spanish. I tend to bump into things a lot.
I arrived in Spain with my obscure expressions. My classmates from Argentina, Colombia, Chile, Peru, Mexico, Puerto Rico, and the Dominican Republic were not amused with my palabrotas in the hall. I tripped and dropped my pen. “¡Mierd@!” flew out of my mouth before I gave it a thought. Our stern Argentino was there to correct me, “Una señorita no habla así.” A young lady does not speak that way. From him, it seemed a sexist comment. It was a sexist comment. So I ignored him.
Later in the second week, I swore again. This time I thought I was in safe company, with my South American women friends. They’d see the humor and jauntiness I wished to express. Juliana tsked. “No, Rebecca,” she said. “Una señorita no habla así.” I looked to Flor for backup. She shook her head. All that Spanish practice and no one to listen. My friend in the staff was the fourth to confirm a Señorita with a potty mouth was going nowhere fast. I started to get the idea, when in Toledo… For a week I practiced substituting, “Caramba” (My gosh) and “Dios mío” (my God) for the more salacious words. I felt limited, like a right had been taken away from me. But I was a visitor in this land, and a Señorita.
Then, when I said what I thought was a simple, “I promise you it’s true,” Juliana told me my oath was too harsh. Really, I’m not making this up! ¡Te lo juro! ¡I swear to you! ; ) Oops, I’ve done it again.
Maybe I wasn’t cut out to be a Señorita…
Hope you enjoyed the excerpt. Funny how the swearing sounded more startling coming toward me in my native tongue in Santiago. Now I can understand why my amigas cringed when I practiced my Spanish curses in Toledo!
This summer, I am looking for a literary agent for my memoir, gardening, blogging, reading and swimming. What are you up to? Is it nearly summer or winter where you live? Please leave your comments below.
Gracias for reading Fake Flamenco. Olé! –Rebecca