Part II: Solamente en Español
Based on the reviews at Tripadvisor.com, I knew that most of the resort staff would not speak English. This was simultaneously exciting and nerve racking. In 1998, I was nearly fluent in Spanish. After 3 years of high school Spanish and one semester of college Spanish, I could have a conversation in Spanish with almost anyone. Nearly ten years have passed and I have lost most of my command of the language. My career and my social life could benefit immensely from knowing Spanish.
Upon arrival, the first person I encounter is the bell hop. He says something I don’t understand. I assumed that he wanted me to leave my bag with him so I did. Another guy says something that I understand to mean that I should register then come back and tell them my room number. After leaving my bag with him I headed to the registration desk. I hesitated to talk in Spanish lest he think I could actually speak Spanish. I was able to check in using a mix of English and Spanish and I was on my way.
As I waited for the bellhop, I sat next to a very dark skinned brother who started speaking to me in Spanish. I gave him a sly smile and said “Solamente hablo un poco de Español.” He started asking me questions and I could only understand 30% of what he was saying. After that we were very quiet until he wanted to know the time. “Diez y diesicuatro,” I said. Then I realized fourteen was catorce and not the literal way I said it. I’m sure he now really believed that I wasn’t Dominican. The bellhop comes to pick me up and asks me for my room number. “Seiscientos y veinte ocho” I tell him. He starts to speak to me in Spanish but I inform him that I “entiendo mas que hablar”. “You aren’t Dominican? You don’t speak Spanish?” I'm sure it's also strange that I keep telling people in Spanish that I only speak a little Spanish or that I understand better than I can speak.
At that point I didn’t realize that I would be asked this every time I encountered a staff member. The bartender, the waiter named Amable (which I knew meant friendly), the hostess and the travel agent all thought I was Dominican. The resort does get a few local tourists on the weekend so I was starting to understand. I wasn’t expecting any Dominican tourists.
During my first day I met with Richard from Coco Tours to inquire about excursions. I knew I did not have time to explore but I wanted to know more about it for next time. He spoke English well and is very animated since he is a salesman. At lunch Richard sees me eating alone and joins me. We start making small talk in English. The waitress approaches me and asks me what I want to drink in Spanish. Richard interjects “en ingles” but before he could get it out I answered “Coke por favor.”
“You speak Spanish?” Richard asks in spanish.
“A little I learned it in High School.”
“Well then, solamente en espanol.”
For the next 30 mins I had to speak in Spanish. I was nervous but excited for the challenge. We talked about New England as Richard got a scholarship to go to Providence Community College. He studied mechanical engineering in undergrad but he is a travel agent because he loves to travel. He’s going to Brazil in September because Sao Paulo is so popular. He also loves baseball but informed me that Dominicans don’t like Alex Rodriquez because he denies his culture. We also talked about my fear of water sports and he encouraged me to try something out while I was there.
I was actually hoping that I would find time to have a full conversation in Spanish. I got my wish. I felt somewhat confident that I could even understand what he was saying. However, I was disappointed that I couldn’t speak better. At least my accent still sounds authentic. I’ve been meaning to take Spanish classes at the USDA graduate school and this ensured that this time I would actually do it.