Now that I’ve been home for a few days I’ve had some time to reflect on bicycle travel. Mainly, I want to do more of it. Perhaps the most exciting part of bicycle travel is studying, and I mean studying really hard, super extra-hard, to learn the foreign language of the country that you intend to visit so that you can have a great time never using it and instead talking to everyone in English except when you very cleverly ask the waiter for more water or where’s the bathroom can I please have a hamburguesa.
Before I went to Mallorca this time I studied Spanish for a year beforehand. No one in Mallorca speaks Spanish, or, more accurately, wanted to with me. Especially our Norwegians, who were pinned from morning to night teaching us how to speak English.
The only lengthy convo I had in Spanish in ten days was doing the security check on Delta with the nice lady who was standing between me and the gate in Madrid as I tried to get home. She interviewed every single passenger, or at least the suspicious ones, well, okay, me.
“Where have you been?” she inquired.
“All your life?” I asked, trying to make a joke that didn’t work at all.
“In Spain,” she said, harshly.
“Bicycling with Norwegians and Texans and Coloradans and a Virginian.”
“How many days?”
“Do you speak Spanish?”
She immediately switched to Spanish. “Any other languages?”
“French, German, Chinese, Japanese, and I also happen to speak well English goodly.”
She got really suspicious. “Do you use these languages for your work?”
“No,” I said.
“Why so many?”
“So I can speak with people like you in order to get back on the plane into the U.S.”
“How did you learn them?”
She was unhappy with all these answers, so she went back to the beginning, hoping to trip me up. “What were you doing in Mallorca?”
“Watching the Norwegians win the drinking competition and watching the Americans win the hangover competition.”
She scowled some more. “Why do you speak so many languages? If it’s not for your job, it’s not normal.”
“That describes me,” I said.
“Your Spanish is excellent. How did you learn it?”
“When I was 13 I got put in Mrs. Simon’s Spanish class at Jane Long Junior High by mistake. She named me ‘Franciso.'”
“Oh, you learned it in school.”
“No. They kicked me out of class when they found out it was for 9th Graders and I was only in 7th. I really hoped that they would put me in Mrs. Barrett’s class, I had a huge crush on her. She also taught Texas history and every year took the kids to the Alabama-Coushatta Indian Reservation, but she got divorced and moved out of state. I was totally in love with her.”
“Then how did you learn it if you were ejected from all classes?”
“Juan taught me, from El Salvador.”
“Who is he?”
“My parents got divorced when I was 15 and my dad was living in this little apartment complex off Braes Bayou called The Governor’s House, and Juan was the maintenance man, he had fled El Salvador’s civil war and he’d always be hanging around looking for somebody to chat with instead of maintaining, and I was kind of lonely and he taught me Spanish because he couldn’t speak a lick of English and I still remembered how to say, ‘My name is Francisco’ from my two days in Mrs. Simon’s class back in 7th Grade.”
“So you learned everything from a maintenance man? Can you read Spanish?”
“Did the maintenance man teach you?”
“No, that was later in high school when I took Spanish from Mrs. Perez.”
“How many years was that?”
“Two, but I failed both years and didn’t learn anything.”
“Then why can you read?”
“Because in college I took Spanish with Ms. Elias Barrientos. I aced Spanish then because I’d failed it so much in high school.”
“Okay,” she said. “You can board.”
“Don’t you want to know how I learned Japanese?” I asked.
“No,” she said.
Which was a bummer, because I wanted to tell her about Dr. Fish Doctor, who taught me my first kanji in a subway. I don’t think I’ve ever told anyone that story before.
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