My Spanish is not good, but I comfort myself with the fact that I can say much more than I understand – which I think is unusual. This does have a downside: sometimes I do not understand what I am saying myself, or what I have said.
One of my biggest gaffs was at the Chinese Bazaar in Alcaniz, our nearest city (of sorts). A few years ago these bazaars were unknown in this part of Spain, it was only possible to buy cheap Chinese stuff from street markets (one of which is run by our friends here in Spain). Now there are bazaars everywhere, selling everything from artificial flowers to tools usable for one job only (like one screw). Anyway, I entered the biggest one in Alcaniz and asked the Chinese gentleman at the till if he sold electrical cable. He turned away without replying. Puzzled, I spelled out my request very carefully, “Compras cable electricidad?” Still he ignored me. So I left, vowing never to go there again no matter how cheap the tools are.
Next day it dawned on me that I had used the wrong verb. I had actually asked him if he bought electrical cable. He probably thought that I was a cable thief and had half a reel of lighting flex hidden somewhere about my body.
Today I did it again. Our huerto has a number of small terraces. We have cleared two and planted fruit and nut trees on them. Above the olive grove is a third terrace, bigger than the others, which is rapidly being invaded by two of the most voracious weeds around here: bramble and bamboo. A villager told me that Bernado, the large man with a big black beard and a big black motorbike, had a machine that could clear the terrace. I asked if it was a JCB (in Spanish), but my informant said definitely not.
It was a JCB. Like a yellow beast from a transformer movie, it roared around my terrace razing everything including small trees, irrigation pipes and the walls of the water course. But cleared the terrace was, so I paid Bernado sixty Euros and stared gloomily at the bonfire he had created in the middle of my scourged and compacted terrace. I did ask him about the roots that clearly remained beneath the surface and he promised that, for more money, he would come back again with a tractor to tear them out once I had burned the bonfire.
As I tackled the difficult task of relaying the old tiles on the new roof of my caseta, I heard a tractor roaring along the agricultural road that runs beside the river. From my rooftop, I could see that it was carrying just the right implement to pull out those roots. I glanced up form my task regularly, noting its progress and hoping that it would be working somewhere nearby and that I could persuade the driver to deal with my terrace. Then it pulled onto my land. I thought that it was going to my neighbour’s terrace since we share an access way, but no – it turned onto mine and set about its work. It was Bernardo, no mistaking him now that he was nearby. The work did not take long and afterwards Bernardo came to talk to me as I continued my task up on the roof. I thanked him and said that now I owed him money (he had owed me some). He looked a little puzzled, but said, I think, that the work was nothing.
Later, up there on the rooftop, I realised that I had used the wrong verb again. This time I had used a verb which means – confusingly – both borrow and lend, whereas I meant to use the verb deber which means to owe. So now I do not know whether I owe big Bernardo money or not. I await with fear the sound of that big black motorbike, or worse still – the JCB.
Well, we all make mistakes. My worry is that these are just some that I know about – there must be others. It is disappointing though, I have tried hard to learn the language. Perhaps reading all those Harry Potter in Spanish was a waste of time, I certainly don’t hear the Spanish mentioning magic wands and spells very much.