My Spanish is not “Perfect” – but I Know What You Mean

Where I work on a day to day basis I’m usually the only white person, and I’d be hard-pressed to find someone who speaks English. It’s funny sometimes to see the expression on the school directors face when they fear that they are about to have a conversation with a Gringo. They worry that they’ll have to use their rusty English to communicate. I tell them “Don’t worry, I speak Spanish.”

Usually at that moment, the loan officer or person I’m traveling with will chime in: “Yes, he speaks Spanish perfectly, you’ll be fine!”

I know this is not the case. I recognize my own grammatical errors, but frankly I’m too tired or too unwilling to stop them. My accent needs a lot of work, and I usually choose the easier phrase rather than the most adequate because I don’t want the hassle. It’s kind of like I ask myself, do I want to cook something on the stove, or just heat it up in the microwave? I’ll tell you honestly, the mornings are better for stove cooking. Afternoons, well, I’d just like to punch in some numbers and wait for the “ding.”

I realized though, that more often than not, when people describe my Spanish to other people, they use the word “perfect” and in fact, they use the word “perfect” to describe other things, like when a plan goes well.

I think as Americans, we’re obsessed with perfection. Beauty in youth, 100% grades on report cards, and flawless victories in sports. Often, it’s what people aim for even if they aren’t saying it.

Maybe here, in my travels, perfection means “done well” or “good enough.” I’d consider my Spanish more of the latter, and yes, I know sometimes, I do it well. I really have come to accept that my Spanish is good enough. I have friends who only speak Spanish, I make phone calls to strangers, and I conduct business meetings in Spanish. It gets the job done. It’s fine. It’s good. Here, it’s perfect.

You know, there are a lot of reasons why people travel: to get away from work, to explore foreign lands, to have an adventure in a place they’ve never been, to meet fun and exciting people, to stretch themselves, to become something different than they have been before.

For some of us seeking perfection, it’s a lot closer than anticipated.

“La perfección se logra al fin, no cuando no hay nada que agregar, sino cuando ya no hay nada que obtener.” -Antoine de Saint-Exupery

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