No conversation in a foreign language is quite as memorable as the first one.
I didn’t sit down because I wanted a conversation. I sat down because I was tired. Mexico City is a large city and I wanted to see it all, but by this point in the late afternoon my feet were sore and I needed a break.
He sat down next to me. Our conversation started simply enough. Where was I from? I am clearly not Mexican. What was I doing in the city? Simple enough that is except that it was in Spanish and until this moment I had never had a conversation in Spanish.
I grew up in an agricultural region in California, where Spanish was the language of the people who worked in the fields. When I was in high school I did not study Spanish because it did not seem like a language that would take me anywhere I wanted to go. So I studied German and French. That was a foolish choice that I have come to regret. This was my 16th trip to Mexico and if you throw in a trip to Spain it was my 17th trip to a Spanish speaking country. The idea that Spanish would not take me anywhere seemed pretty silly sitting on a bench in Mexico struggling to converse in Spanish.
We sat for the better part of an hour in front of Mexico City’s modern yellow Caballo (horse) statue as I struggled to remember the Spanish I had learned on my own as an adult. He sold insurance. That seems like a simple enough sentence but strangely enough, the people who put together the Learn in the Car Spanish series did not think I would need to know such complicated concepts as insurance. So we had to talk around such complex ideas. “People die we pay money”. Ah, he sold insurance.
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He worked in the Torre Latinoamerica, the first of the many skyscrapers in Mexico City. Did I know the place? Yes. I had just walked past it. An invitation to his office was extended.
If explaining insurance was difficult then I was not sure how I could explain that I worked building online communities. I simplified it. I work on computers and the internet. After all, that explanation has been enough for my family for years.
We talked about family. We talked about vacation. We occasionally ran out of Spanish words and lapsed into Italian which I had studied previously. He was an opera singer so he also knew some Italian.
We talked for 45 minutes. It was a slow process and he was very patient. I had only intended to rest my feet, but I found conversation. I found connection.