Ordering a meal in a foreign country is always a bit of a gamble, especially if you and your waiter don’t have anything other than sign language in common. How does one say scrambled eggs with toast with no Babel fish readily available?
Gareth and I were in just such a predicament a few days ago when we were on our way to the Sierra Nevada in Spain. So far, everywhere we had stopped to eat, the menu had been available in both English and Spanish, but when we sat down for breakfast in a little diner in a pueblo in the middle of nowhere, with no other tourists in sight and a menu that offered no hints whatsoever, we suddenly had to trust to the little bits of Spanish I’ve been able to pick up as we go along. Neither German, French or Italian sounds anything like Spanish, so I couldn’t even fall back on my knowledge of these languages.
Paging frantically through my little Top 10 Andalucia guide’s limited phrase book, we managed to glean that huevos means eggs and patatas means potatoes. We found something on the menu called “croquettes, patatas y huevos” and figured that sounded safe enough to try out – perhaps a Spanish omelette or pancakes with scrambled eggs on it. Close, but no cigar.
We got the patatas right, and along with it came a few slices of cured ham, or jamon, and the croquettes, which are a little bit like tube-shaped hash browns, only a lot more squishy and very rich. They were quite tasty, in fact, and we were relieved that we hadn’t ordered something too strange for our tastes.
Since then I’ve made an effort to try and learn the more common mealtime phrases and I fancy that now whenever a waiter asks what we want to drink and I reply with “uno cafe con leche e uno chocolate caliente, por favor,” they can hardly tell that I’m not from around here… or at least smile at the South African trying her best to sound as Spanish as possible.
For more posts in the Spain 2010 series, click here.
Do you make a point of learning the language of the foreign country you’re visiting? What was your most awkward language-related incident? Or, where did you do yourself proud with your excellent language skills?