As you start to learn a foreign language it is to be expected that you become able to say more and more things. However, here is a little test for you once you start to become more confident: could you describe yourself? It isn’t as easy as you might think, as my experiences learning Spanish might help to show.
I first started learning Spanish with a group of other Brits in Quito, Ecuador. During one of the first days the teacher was talking about colours and said that my hair was rubio. Great - we all thought - rubio means red; this language stuff is easy. It was only the following day that we discovered that rubio means blonde. A heated discussion followed, as my class mates insisted that I was in no way, shape or form blonde. They complained bitterly that I was a clear example of a natural redhead. The teacher disagreed. A few weeks later I thought back on this and realised that it was a cultural difference rather than a language one. In the UK we are used to seeing so many different colours of hair that we get very specific about them. I remember sitting one day at work as we classified all of the redheads in the office as auburn, ginger, strawberry blonde, copper or plain old red. However, if you go to Ecuador you will see that just about everyone has dark hair. This means that anyone with light coloured hair of any description tends to get called rubio.
Don’t Call Me Gringo (Unless You Want To)
The first time I got deeply offended in Spanish was when someone called me a gringuito. This means something like little gringo. I had learned by then that the ito diminutive doesn’t always mean small (the person who said it was about a foot smaller than me anyway). Gringo, though, is bad, isn’t it? There was a song out at the time called Don’t Call Me Gringo which seemed to be about Mexicans and gringos insulting each other. I later discovered that gringo is only an offensive term in some parts of Latin America. In others it simply means someone of an Anglo Saxon background, or a foreigner. If anyone asks me over the phone now what I look like (which is, admittedly, pretty rare) I can proudly say that I am a gringo rubio and they will understand me perfectly.
Young at Heart
When I first arrived in Ecuador I didn’t particularly see myself as being a young whippersnapper. I had been working for about a decade, owned a house and was on my second car. However, I soon realised that the locals all called me joven, or youth. This put an extra spring in my step and I even decided to wear my shirt outside my trousers again for a while. I can’t put my finger on why some cultures class you as being a youth when you wouldn’t be called this in others. All I know is that I am a joven gringo rubio and I am happy with that description.
Would you like to be able to describe yourself accurately in a foreign language? With just a little knowledge of the local culture you could do it - tell us what you look like in the 'Comments' section below!