Getting Ready for Spain

Like a preview for the movie I’m about to watch, the table in front of me tonight was four Spaniards. It’s been an inexplicable 13 years since I was in their country, but in two remarkably short days I’ll fly to Barcelona. So as I worked my luxurious way through a halloumi burger and the Amsterdam sun gave way to purple evening, I couldn’t help but listen.

Spain has many remarkable aspects, but the most portable museum of its cultural wonders has to be their conversation. The sheer velocity of their words leads me to suspect a national techno soundtrack plays at some deep linguistic level of the communal mind, but more than mere speed, I stood abashed at the intricacy of their conversational choreography.

Four guys sitting at a table, two to a side. I lift my glass for a sip of a lovely saison.

Guy 1 begins an idea, and starts to explain it.
Guy 2 begins to respond.
Guy 3 adds to the initial idea.
Guy 2 interrupts himself to respond to the addition.
Guy 1 finished the first idea, and immediately begins a response to guy 3.
Guy 4 addresses guy 2’s response, I’m not sure if it’s the first or second.
Guy 3 finishes his addition.
Guy 4 responds to guy 1’s response to guy 3.
Guy 1 finishes his response to 3, and begins a rebuttal to guy 4.
Guy 2 finishes the second response, despite the fact that it is already four stages out of date. Or is it five?
Guy 4 is already responding.

I lower my glass, its level only slightly lower than when I lifted it.

For the duration of my halloumi, I watched as they overlapped and interwove their sentences, often breaking into two independent conversations, not necessarily parallel, often crossing in an X over their glasses in the middle of the table. Only for brief moments was a single person speaking. More often it was three, the fourth only quiet because they all liked their beers. Even the Spanish can’t talk while drinking. Though give them time.

With meticulous care inspired by Dutch engineering, I rotated my burger to keep the mango chutney inside, and accepted the fact that next week my dusty Spanish will come out at Model T speeds into the Formula 1 flow of Spanish conversation. But that’s okay. I’m not going there to teach, I’m going there to learn. So I’ll sit back and soak up as much as I can. And I suspect I’ll fall into bed at night feeling like I’ve just completed 500 laps.

I wonder what color the evenings will be.