Sunday in the Park with Brian: Therapy Session #4 (The “Lost in Translation” Version)

Note: This is a flashback post from our first trip to Spain. Hopefully, the statute of limitations has run out on any crimes that we may have committed…

We’re still traipsing around the Andalusian countryside, avoiding any degree of responsible behavior as well as local authorities, so I don’t have quite the time for a full-on treatise concerning what has irked me during the preceding week. But I’m sure I can squeeze in a few tidbits before we rush off to another restaurant in Ronda and proceed to torment the staff as they force a smile and try to assist the noisy tourists with their food and beverage aspirations. Here we go…


ONE: Navigational satellite programs that don’t quite hit the mark.

Helga, in her bland, monotone digi-voice: “In one hundred meters, turn left.”

Me: “Um, Helga love, I can’t turn left. That’s a one-way street and all the cars are headed toward me.”

Helga, slightly more insistent: “In fifty meters, you must turn left.”

Me: “Still a one-way street. Still headed toward me. And those drivers look like they sense fresh foreigner meat, revving their engines and whipping out pocket knives so they can add another notch to their dashboard. I am not going to turn left here.”

Helga: “Turn. LEFT.”

I don’t turn, sailing straight through the intersection. I hear a collective sigh from the revving drivers as they realize another innocent has escaped their clutches. Then they turn and look behind me to see if anyone is coming along who might be more willing to listen to Helga.

Helga, clearly perturbed about my anarchistic behavior: “Recalculating route.”

This takes longer than it seems it should, so Helga is probably multi-tasking, alerting her immediate supervisor that surely a pay raise is in order if she has to deal with the likes of me.

Finally, Helga: “In two hundred meters, drive over the roundabout and take the second exit.”

Me: “Over? How does one go over the roundabout, Helga? I’m not seeing a bridge. I’m seeing lots of people going around the roundabout. Shouldn’t we try that?”

Helga, dispensing with any remaining professionalism: “I said go OVER the roundabout and take the second exit, you cow.”

Helga and I are no longer on speaking terms.


TWO: Roundabouts.

Not a fan. End of story.


THREE: The language barrier that should be there.

There is a certain subset of the human population wherein logic is a bit sketchy. Okay, more than one, but I’m focused on a particular contingent: The folks who think that just because they don’t speak the same language as you, you can’t actually see the physical things they do as well. You can be innocently strolling through the city park, admiring nature and whatnot, birds frolicking and sun shining, and here comes a duo of yammering twits, chattering away in that too-fast stream of sound that all languages have when you are not intimate with the linguistic workings.

You know they can see you, because you are right there in their flight path. (And it’s not like I’m a mere wisp of a thing that might be confused with a streetlamp or a javelin pole that somebody thoughtlessly left shoved in the ground.) They don’t even pause or review their surroundings, marching forth with the brazen confidence of the clueless and poorly-raised. This leaves matters up to you to dive out of the way, narrowly avoiding certain death or at least serious bodily injury that will greatly affect your performance of the chicken dance at the next Oktoberfest.

And, of course, you can’t make any incisive commentary about their rude existence as it would prove pointless. You don’t know how to convey your sentiments aside from primitive but dramatic gestures. They will most likely be down the hill and round the bend (over the bend?) before you think of a really clever response, physical or otherwise. And there’s the fundamental reality that they really don’t care what you might think or they wouldn’t have tried to flatten you in the first place.


FOUR: Sometimes you just have to inadvertently flash your boobs.

As you wander through the “old” part of a city where even the “new” part is several millennia older than most states in America, admiring the architecture and the charm and the astonishing fact that some soulless business man hasn’t razed everything and built cheap, high-end condos, you might eventually have a certain need. This yearning will be focused on something that you forgot to bring on your current roundelay, an item that seemed unworthy of toting during the morning preparations but fate has intervened and now you cannot live if living is without that which you willfully left behind.

In my latest example, the quest for the Holy Grail involved expectorant.

Now, I realize this is not the most alluring of topics, but surely my fellow sinus sufferers will agree that an otherwise pleasant day can suddenly be blown all to hell when your respiratory systems reacts unfavorably to something wafting about in air. I was innocently reviewing some hand-painted tile work on a quaint little church when the transition took place. My appreciation for religious iconography paled a bit when compared to my lungs filling with thick wetness. Naturally, I had a pile of sinus meds back at the rental condo, but nary a tablet on my person, because I have focus issues.

After whining and complaining about my drippy situation for a good while, one of my traveling companions finally decided that the only way to shut me up was to resolve this annoying predicament and the two of us raced off to the nearest farmacia. As soon as we entered this fine establishment, the clerk at the counter narrowed his eyes suspiciously, probably because we clattered through the door in an obvious tourist manner instead of discreetly slipping in and quietly perusing the selection of antacids.

My companion (let’s call her Belinda for the purposes of this story, shall we?) marched right up to the counter and began negotiations. This was fine by me, more power to her. I had been studying Spanish for several months before this trip, but the only thing I had really retained was the fact that it was going to take me a long time to learn Spanish.

The conversation went something like this:

Belinda: “Something for congestion?”

Clerk: “Qué?”

Belinda, clutching at her ample chest: “Congestion?”

The clerk pointed at a display of feminine products.

Belinda shook her head with some exasperation (really? how did you get “sangria-scented douche” out of that?) then proceeded to pantomime an exaggerated coughing fit, bending over in her efforts.

The clerk pointed to a display of collapsible walkers.

Belinda: “Cough! Sinuses!”

The clerk’s eyes lit up, indicating an affinity for one or both of those words. He pointed to a stack of orange and white boxes. “Kerngrip Forte!” proclaimed the little boxes, perkily. This meant nothing to either of us, and it didn’t look all that Spanish. For all we knew we might be dealing with laxatives, and strong ones at that, considering the French-flair of “Forte!” I certainly didn’t have any need for such, considering all the spicy local cuisine we had been consuming like chipmunks on crack.

Still, the clerk was convinced that he had once again overcome the American tendency to only learn one language and yet still expect to be understood in all parts of the world. (To be fair, I do know French, but that did little good in Spain.) He plucked up one of the boxes and presented it with a flourish to Belinda, perhaps in honor of her ample bosom, who knows.

Belinda shoved the box at me for review. I flipped it over, hoping for some type of revelation in the fine print. Of course, it was all in Spanish, with no helpful pictures or a button that I could push to translate the page. With my well-intentioned but limited Rosetta Stone training, I only knew about one in seven of the words. But one word did catch my eye: “Paracetamol”. That was a pain reliever, in a dosage that was rather liberal. There was the possibility that I still might not be able to breathe, but it was entirely feasible that I wouldn’t care once the paracetamol kicked in.

Me: “I’ll take it.”

Clerk: “Qué?”


FIVE: The kindness of strangers.

In this wee nub of a village where we are staying (population 1,643, bumped up to 1,649 for a week or so), it’s obvious that we ain’t from around here. We do get a few curious but relatively discreet stares as we go about our business. At the same time, there is a warm cordiality that suffuses the experience. Everyone says “hola!” to everyone else they meet. You might encounter twenty different people as you leisurely saunter your way to the panaderia for some fresh bread and maybe a dessert treat for the evening meal, and you can expect to have twenty conversations, however brief and fleeting.

This doesn’t happen in the larger Spanish cities, and it doesn’t happen anywhere in the States, at least not where I’ve been.

But maybe it should. Because the one thing that seems to be at the root of so many of the world’s problems is that people have forgotten how to be pleasant to one another even if some of them ain’t from around here.



Originally published in “Bonnywood Manor” on 09/25/16. Some modifications made for this post. For the curious, the expectorant proffered by the farmacia clerk proved to work quite nicely, even if the customs officials on the flight back home pulled me to the side and demanded to know more about the “Kerngrip Forte!” I flashed them my boobs and all was well…


25 replies »

  1. Oh my God …laughed so hard.

    I always thought sat navs should be in the voice of a person who really pisses us off in life so we can really put our hearts into the “F*** off!!!!!!!!!!” that inevitably escapes our exasperated throats.

    I went to Spain when I was about 16 with my school. Literally no one spoke English, and if they did they wouldn’t talk to us out of some kind of righteous indignation at the cheek of us visiting their country and not knowing their language.
    My friend asked for a hot chocolate in a cafe and was brought a small cup of melted, thick chocolate. We chuckled.

    Oh B…these nostalgic little memory posts of yours make me wish I was a man, living in America, who liked terribly talented and funny men and I lived next door to you. The fun we could have had.

    Liked by 2 people

    • The Sat Nav thing has always been a thorn in my side. I have very close friends who simply refuse to drive a car without activating such, even when they’re just going down the street to the grocery store that they’ve been to roughly 212 times. It makes me insane and it’s all I can do not to rip that thing off the dash and throw it out the window.

      To be fair, I always TRY to speak the local language. But when I’m nervous and unsure, my Oklahoma accent comes out and that just butchers things even if I get the words right.

      And yes, you should be the clever man who lives next door. I totally approve that message, even if it means we might have to deal with my partner getting a bit concerned…

      Liked by 1 person

      • Lol, B. Nothing to be concerned about.
        Just love you lots as do all of your readers


        You’re partner should be flattered that a woman 4000 ish miles away is terribly enamoured by you, and feel lucky that he has such a wonderful man in his life.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Ahhh – the joys and curious misadventures of travelling abroad!
    … and with my allergies and sinus issues, I can relate to this story. I am now a walking pharmacy when I travel!

    As for the GPS, I called mine The Bitch. That says everything about our relationship – which has now ended. She tried to have me killed too many times for comfort.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I am a walking pharmacy as well, sort of. The sad part is that I often leave said pharmacy nestled in my suitcase instead of carefully selecting a plethora of possible needs before I venture out for another day of ill-planned adventures.

      And what IS it with the GPS spokesmodels? They seem to relish placing us in harm’s way. Something’s not right there…


      • I now use an app on my phone called Waze. It’s very good and although I’ve been taken on some interesting routes, she’s never insisted I should turn left into the lake. I consider that a good thing.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Great post. 😀 So funny. I have to say that I thought you were going to comment on how Americans can be recognised for their trouble with the metric system. You got me. 🙂
    Chipmunks on crack! That’s what’s up with those chippies who keep doorstepping me and chittering wildly when I try to go into my own house. 🙂
    And yes, a little more pleasant in the world would make the world a better place.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. This made me laugh a lot, having just returned from a thousand mile road trip across the country following (ignoring mostly!) a defunct Sat Nav that hasn’t been updated in years and cursing all the crazy huge roundabouts I had to attempt to navigate. At least there wasn’t a language barrier (with the exception of, perhaps, Wales, where some of the signs are in Welsh!)

    Liked by 1 person

    • I feel your pain. Although I guess we shouldn’t complain too much, as it wasn’t that long ago when Sat Nav was pure science fiction, and the only way one could travel is by perusing wretchedly-outdated physical maps that never folded back up the way they should… 😉

      Liked by 1 person

  5. I had missed this festive tale of the Curse of Foreign Languages and why isn’t there a Universal Translator invented YET? There is one in Star Trek land. Ah well. I admit to howling with laughter, but I want to know how “Helga” (which sounds distinctly Swedish or German and Oktoberfest which IS German (I think) got hired by the sat nav in a Spanish or Italian country? Is there a GPS exchange program, sort of like used to happen (or so I heard, they don’t send foreign students to Utah. I think they’re afraid they’ll be converted or something) with foreign exchange students? Did ‘Maria’ go to Sweden then? Or “Hortencia” to Germany? And I’m curious. Did the wonder kinder pharmacia medication work? Or was it truly a laxative and you had to spend the rest of the stay in your condo, stoned to the gills?

    Liked by 1 person

    • I wonder if the sat/nav people just pick a voice and accent that can be understood by the most people. Can you imagine what it would be like if folks had to understand directions from a thick, Oklahoma drawl? There would be traffic congestion and fiery crashes across the globe. (For the record, in case you’ve pondered about this on sleepless nights, I don’t have an Oklahoma accent (unless I’m really tired or a bit tipsy), but I can turn it on like flipping a switch. Sometimes I do so just to watch the expressions on people’s faces…

      Oh, and yes, the medication was fine. It was not a miracle drug, but it at least eased things to the point that I no longer wanted to take the lives of the people around me… 😉


      • Ah. The accent. I did wonder about that, and now can sleep, worry free. Ha. I wonder now and again (as well) if those of us who don’t think we have ‘accents’ ‘cos we’s from places that don’t have them…really DO and people are just too polite to say anything. Of course, I’ve spoken to people from back East (New Yawk, Massachusetts…Boston) and they laughed their heads off when I said I had no accent, but admired THEIRS…

        Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.