Learning Spanish for Traveling and Living in Mexico
IN ROME… or in Los Cabos
by Adriana Kenlan
Every week, about 750 new people come to the Los Cabos area to settle. These may be workers arriving from the Mainland or Central America, or the increasingly large number of North Americans seeking a great climate and good value for their retirement dollars. Unfortunately, these Americans often fail to realize that they are within a Spanish speaking country.
Too often, part time or full time Gringo residents figure that it’s the responsibility of the local Mexicans to speak English, rather than the obligation of the newcomers to adapt to the local customs and language. Just witness the debates in the US about the importance of learning the “national language” for immigrants, legal or not. Well, this is a Spanish speaking country. A knowledge of Spanish is is not only helpful, but will expedite all aspects of life in Mexico. Is it time to process your visa at immigration? While it is possible to hire someone to process your residence papers, it may be costly and can
take a long time. Being able to actually talk to the people at the Immigration Department is an advantage. Their new “attitude of friendliness” is enhanced when you show that you can try to communicate in their language.
Most Americans are notoriously poor with foreign languages. The last 40 years witnessed a change in the priorities by educators in the United States, and the importance of learning another language was too often ignored. The lack of language funding and qualified teachers has led to a failure to understand that other languages may be vital for commerce or travel. While it is true that English has been accepted as the international language for business communication in many parts of the world, times are changing. Spanish, French, and even Chinese are more useful than ever in forming successful business and social relationships. It is to the credit of the Mexicans that they make such an effort to speak English.
Are you trying to locate a store for a particular food or product? Today, Mexico offers a wealth of products, with wonderful condiments and herbs. The types and cuts of meat are different and it helps to describe them in Spanish, instead of saying “Baa Baa” to describe lamb, as I did when first arriving in Cabo. Does your car need repair or service? There are many car service businesses today in Los Cabos, and it helps to know exactly what to expect regarding cost and when your car will be ready, or the result may only be “Manana”. It’s quite amazing how the bill goes down when you can explain the problem and be sociable in Spanish. Wouldn’t you like to understand the local news? It is quite different from the news that is given in English. By understanding Spanish, you will have a much better comprehension of what is happening in Los Cabos, other than just the social events for Gringos. The local news is very beneficial in understanding current development, problems, and policies.
It is crucial to be able to read the signs along the highway. Although many resemble their English counterparts, some are quite different and may be critical to understand. The roads are hazardous enough without being at a disadvantage because you didn’t understand the sign. It is also necessary to understand the directions to a location, and a knowledge of Spanish is all too obvious when requesting help from the locals.
When most Gringos enter the Mexican supermarkets, restaurants, and shops, they expect English to be spoken, and some are even highly upset when the locals cannot understand the English requests. One day recently, an American in a large supermarket in Cabo started shouting at the counter girl because she could not understand that he wanted some glue. He stormed out of the store, infuriated at “the lack of service”. What he lacked in language skills, he attempted to compensate with volume. (He may have been the same guy who got upset at the Mexican worker in his California hometown who couldn’t speak fluent English!)
Basic Spanish language skills are important for anyone choosing to live in Los Cabos. Whether you need toverify and pay your electric or water bills, or you want to be able to order something great at a restaurant, or you want to get directions to a great Taco hangout or that perfect surfing beach, communicating with the locals comes in handy. Why be a “victim” when you need to repair your car or want a haircut done to perfection? If you can explain exactly what you want or need, chances are that you’ll get exactly what you want…and more probably the services will be not be provided for “Gringo” prices. Too often you hear Gringos say, “I can’t learn Spanish. I’ve tried a lot of times”. Or, “I’ve been here for 15 years, and why should I learn now?“ Well, for one thing, we can change the perception of the “arrogant” American who demands that Mexicans adapt to the newcomers, not vice verca. It’s only common courtesy to speak Spanish in Mexico. Even if it’s only to apologize for speaking it poorly! You would be surprised at how pleased the locals would be….. And you would love how much better the service and results would be. Even by attempting a few words in Spanish, you’ll win a spot in their hearts Mexicans, who are among the most friendly people in the world, really want to develop friendships with the Gringo residents. . It’s a win-win situation; better Spanish for you, and better English for them! The old expression, “When in Rome, do as the Romans do”, certainly applies to Los Cabos too. Language is the quickest way to build a bridge between the cultures.