Other Cultures

April 30th, 2013

Country/Day:           India/84

Bikes Fixed:                  106

Bikes/Day Avg:                 1.26


The bottom-right four are for all the settings on your future hot tub.

I could (and later, may) make this a more elaborate post, but for now, I’m torn between keeping up with things in India and preempting my 10-day return to the States (which preempts my 90-day trip to Guatemala).

In the mean time this is intended to be a short, semi-satirical post about, well, two of the interesting cultural things I’m experiencing at the moment:

(1) Light switches.

(2) Language.

So similar, I know.

(1) I really don’t have to explain this one, I think, beyond posting the photo above. For all my Indian friends who think that is normal… well, I have one light switch for my room at home. Some rooms have two light switches (like the kitchen). I think the biggest switch bank we have is just inside the front door, which has one switch for the porch light, one switch for the entry light, and one switch for the second floor staircase (which has always confused me). How do you not need to label them?

(2) I’ve written a lot of posts about speaking Hindi and the language barrier in general. I’ve also touched on the idea that my brain is wired to speak Latin languages, and not, well… Indian ones.

This became more evident to me when I started thinking about my impending trip to Guatemala, for which I will have to practice my Spanish. Immediately after thinking that, someone asked me something in Hindi, and I replied in Spanish. It was automatic — Oh, this isn’t English. It must be _____!

(correct answer: One of the hundreds of other languages out there)

(my (incorrect) answer: Another Latin language)

Funny how our brains work.

Anyways, there’s a significant update coming up about the Guatemalan portion of the trip, but part of it goes like this:

I wrote a letter to someone in Guatemala. It began with,

Hola Carlos,

(dígame si debo escribir en español)

[message in English]

Which reads,

Hello Carlos,

(let me know if I should write in Spanish)


To be clear, I don’t consider myself a Spanish speaker. Spanish is my fourth language, after Facial Expressions, English, and then French (making Hindi my fifth). I knew I was likely to visit a Spanish-speaking country soon after graduation (between this and taking tango lessons in Argentina… well, one of them had to happen), so I took a year of Spanish in college. My background in French does help (often the words and sentence structures are very similar, so if you don’t know a word in Spanish, you can just say the French word but with a Spanish accent)… but that just means I’m good at faking Spanish.

Another addendum: I have never been forced to speak a language I’m unfamiliar with. I’ve never been out of the country except to India, and most of the people I need to communicate with here speak English or are really good at miming.

So when I got this reply from Carlos,

Gracias por tu apoyo bueno solo quiero decirte si puedes escribirme en español todo y luego te respondere gracias,

(which says, in essence, “Please write in Spanish”) I realized, well… it’s go time. Too bad I left my English-Spanish dictionary at home.
That moment you realize you have to do something you’ve never done before, and you’ve got no other choice: It happens a lot to me. You know what my response is?
Let’s do this.
(hey, maybe I should make t-shirts. Actually, no, first I’ll come up with something more catchy. Then I’ll make t-shirts. And on the back they can say, “You like this. It’s catchy.” *ahem*)

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