Before embarking on my four-month odyssey of South America I decided I needed to learn some of the Spanish language. It didn't come naturally but thought I did okay in the time available. When my plane landed in Santiago though, I immediately found myself in a rather daunting world. Street signs were confusing and conversations around me seemed to be in fast forward and I could barely catch a word.
I had to face the challenge though and felt a real sense of accomplishment after purchasing a sandwich. "Un sándwich por favor” Okay, it wasn't the most difficult thing to do but after thanking the girl with a perfectly executed “Gracias senorita” I was very pleased with myself. A step at a time I thought and I'd soon have this whole language barrier down to a mere speed bump.
Before long came a more challenging assignment: purchase a bus ticket from a clerk who spoke no English. It was early morning and I needed to leave on the next bus. I thought a polite greeting was probably a good way to start. "Buenos dias senor" was echoed with "Buenos dias" and a smile. So far so good. My request for a ticket then went something like this: "Um...necesito un...billete de bus por...manana"
The man let my words wash over him for a moment and after a pause nodded his head. It's a good sign I thought; he understands me. But then he paused again and repeated 'manana'. "Si", I eagerly replied, "necesito manana". I need to leave this morning. "O-kay" the clerk smiled, very proud of the only word of English he knew. He proceeded to issue me a ticket and showed me my fare on his calculator.
After that, the ever-reliable sign language kicked in. He gestured for me to follow him to the window where he held up four fingers and pointed to fourth parking bay of the bus station. He indicated on his watch that the bus leaves at 9.30am, repeated "manana" and gave me a thumbs up. I smiled and shook his hand. Success!
As the time ticked away I began to wonder where the bus was. I recalled in my mind the details of my ticket purchase...9.30am, bay 4, manana....manana! Something from all my Spanish lessons suddenly clicked in my mind. 'Manana' is the Spanish word for 'morning' but they also use exactly the same word for 'tomorrow'. I looked closely at the date and sure enough, I'd been booked, just as I asked, on a bus leaving tomorrow!
After a mad dash up to the ticket office it was time to bring out the Spanish for 'sorry' and ask for another ticket as soon as possible! "Triste senor...necesito un billete hoy" I need a ticket today! "Por favor" This time communication was instant and I was able to be on my way as planned. As I settled in to my seat I couldn't help but wonder..."how much trouble would it have been to invent just one more word to their vocabulary?"