Saturday, June 10, 2017

Street-side and Seaside – Erich

Barranquilla is near the northern tip of Colombia. It's on the Magdalena River and nearly at the Caribbean Sea. It is tropical, hot, laid back, and has plenty of idiosyncrasies. (Of course, I would know nothing about having plenty of idiosyncrasies.)

Take street-side parking as an example. Now, I have seen plenty of signs that tell drivers where they are allowed to park or at times what they are allowed to park. But have you ever seen a place you are allowed to park your elephant?
It's hard to find a space to fit an oversized vehicle
I didn't actually see an elephant parked, but did find this guy.
Parked in the shade so he won't overheat
Don't worry. He wasn't in a designated elephant zone.

The fauna is not the only interesting thing here. The flora can be downright unusual and spectacular too.
Half cactus, half tree
While we were in Barranquilla we caught some public transportation. It was neither horse nor elephant, but actually a bus. And we visited a part of town called Las Flores. It was fascinating as there was a canal of sorts running right through the middle of the neighborhood. At places along it, people had laid out planks to cross it.

Here we enjoyed some amazing seafood. Being situated on the Caribbean and none too far from the Pacific has its advantages.

We enjoyed anillos de calamar (calamari rings), casuela de mariscos (seafood "casserole" but it looks more like a chowder than what we would consider a casserole), and tipicos de la casa (the special of the house.) If you enjoy seafood, you would love it. If you don't enjoy seafood, we totally ordered the wrong things.
Anillos de calamar
Casuela de mariscos
Tipicos de la casa
And just to end on a weird note, check out the decorations on this house. A spigot? Strange. But maybe in big rainstorms, they turn it on and drain the roof!
When it rains, does it pour?
I know, it's practically like a hydrant, right?

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

It's Not What You Say, It's Knowing How They Say It – Erich

During this journey around the world, we have taken a few opportunities to see some movies. And today we did so again.

I have commented before about the experience of seeing a film in another country, particularly one which is not English speaking. And seeing a movie in Colombia does not disappoint.

First, it was a great movie. We saw La Mujer Maravilla AKA Wonder Woman. And there was a lot of wonder. But I'm not attempting to be a movie critic. I want to talk about what it is to see a movie in Colombia.

First, when you go to see an American or other non-Spanish language film in Colombia, you must check which version of the movie you want to see. I don't mean 2D vs. 3D, though we did have that choice as well. I mean subtitulado vs. doblado.

Subtitulado means subtitled. The movie has the original soundtrack with the original actors. And there are subtitles in Spanish on the bottom of the screen. Doblado means dubbed. So a new voice track has been made by Spanish speaking actors speaking, unsurprisingly, in Spanish. We had choices. We could see the 2D movie with subtitles or the 3D movie with dubbing. That was an easy choice. First, we don't love 3D. Second, we don't understand Spanish well enough to listen to the movie in Spanish and follow along.

But I do know enough Spanish to really enjoy the subtitles. And it made me appreciate how much of language is not simply the words, but the idioms we use. I will give a few examples without any spoilers for the movie.

At one point a character is in training and is told to do the exercise again. In English the word used was "Again." But the subtitles read "De nuevo." Literally that would be "of new." They did not use "además" which would be a direct translation of again. Though perhaps a closer translation would be "furthermore." But I'm sure to the Spanish speaking audience "de nuevo" must have made perfect sense. It must be their way of saying do something again.

At several points in the film characters would say "come on." Now we all know exactly how to interpret that. There is no question as to why we use the preposition on in our minds. Or on our minds. One time I saw "come on" translated as "ven conmigo" or come with me. But most of the rest of the time it was translated as "vamos" or we go.

Why is it usually vamos but one time it wasn't? I don't know. I don't know enough about idiomatic Spanish to understand the contextual difference between the two situations.

Another huge difference is one of pronouns. We love our pronouns in English. We use them all the time. In Spanish, they seem to have a very different relationship with them. Sure, they use pronouns, but not nearly as often. As an example, if I want to say "I know" in English, I have to use the pronoun. If I just say "Know" it doesn't make sense. I mean maybe I am giving you a command to suddenly gain an awareness you were heretofore lacking. But aside from commands, we use pronouns.

As a challenge, I am going to attempt to write the next two paragraphs with no pronouns. (It's actually a test of how well I know what is and is not a pronoun, I suppose.)

In Spanish every verb is conjugated depending on the subject. So a speaker can just say "sé" a word pronounced as "say". And that would mean "I know." (The use of a pronoun was required in the previous instance, but as the pronoun was in quotes the writer feels justified that the writer has not failed the aforementioned pronoun prohibition.) Except Spanish speakers don't just say "sé", or at least the subtitlers didn't in the movie.

At one point important character was telling authoritarian character that important character just had to do a particular action. (Not specifying what the "particular action" is.) And in English the authoritarian character replied, "I know." (Again in quotes.) But the subtitles read "Lo sé." Literally the words means "I know it." So the translation did include a pronoun. But Spanish speakers include the pronoun of the object, which English speakers skip, and English speakers include the pronoun of the subject, which Spanish speakers skip.

Thank goodness I am through two paragraphs. That is hard to do!

Another instance was one of specificity. Let's say there was a bad guy called Bubba in the movie. (By the way, there wasn't, I just don't want to spoil anything. Though I suppose if you go see the movie now and you're just waiting for Bubba to appear, and then he never does, that might spoil it too.) Anyway, there were points where a character would say "It's him." But the subtitles read "Es Bubba." So they specified Bubba instead of using him. (Except it wasn't Bubba. Don't build up the false expectation, okay?)

My point is this: Learning a language is a lot more than learning the vocabulary and grammar. Because even when you know those, you will never say the things that natives would say. I would never think to say "de nuevo" instead of "además."

And English is full of idiomatic ways to say things. From our inconsistent use of pronouns (do I give up or do I give in?) through our poorly placed prefixes (inflammable means the same as flammable, really? And nonplussed is the opposite of what?) to our phrasal verbs (if you stop and think about it what does vomit have to do with throwing up? Your arm is not involved, and while it likely goes up your esophagus, it generally goes down soon thereafter.)

English is the most global language there is at present. And we native English speakers must be far more patient with those who learn it as a second or third or later language. Because even when you learn the words, the pronunciation, and the grammar, it isn't always what you say that gives your words meaning. It's how we expect to hear it.

Monday, June 5, 2017

No Exito – Erich

There is this story my mother sometimes tells about me as a little boy. I'm talking a toddler. So, at that age I was an avid fan of Sesame Street. And it had its various segments in which they taught you words with little songs and clips.

Well, one day my mother had me with her at a store. I don't recall if it was a grocery store or clothing store or something else. But the type of store is not germane to the story. While we were there I apparently dazzled some of the other women who were shopping because I saw one of the lit exit signs. Recalling my excellent Sesame based education system I pointed to the sign and said, "Exit, mommy. That says exit. It's the way, way, way, way out."

In Colombia, one of the big grocery store chains is called Exito. They are recognizable by the branding color of yellow. Each has a big yellow wall on the outside of the building with Exito written in black letters.

Of course, you might be afraid that seeing Exito in big letters, no one would be willing to enter. After all, the exit is the way, way, way, way out. Right?

Wrong. Because the Spanish word "exito" does not mean "exit." It means "success". And who wouldn't want to step into success.

It's a good thing too, because if you couldn't step into the Exito, not only would the store go out of business, not only would you likely starve, but you would miss amazing items for sale. Like this yard of cookies. Yes, you heard that right. It's a yard. It has an actual yardstick on the package.
A full 36 inches
Of course, the funny thing is that I never saw these European cookies in Europe. Only here in Colombia where almost no one speaks English did I see this well labeled in English box of cookies.

And no, we did not buy them. When you carry all of your groceries home in backpacks, a yard long box is not conducive to easy transport by mochila (Spanish for backpack).
Consult often!
The other thing note about Exito is that in several places in the store they have these kiosk stands where you can check the prices of things. Now, you are thinking, no big deal. We have those kiosks at home. And that's true, we do. But the difference here is that you really need them! You see about a third of the items on the shelves have no price labels. And of those that do, often the label is several inches, sometimes feet (maybe even a yard) from where the item is located on the shelf.

By the way, if one kept rapt attention on Sesame Street, you were likely to see those clips replayed in Spanish. So I would have also learned that "salida" meant the way, way, way, way out. And as you learn more Spanish, you see why that is very sensible.

You see the verb to leave is "salir" in Spanish. And the place you leave, the exit is "salida." Similarly, the verb to enter is "entrar" in Spanish, and the way in is the "entrada."

So if you find yourself one day in an Exito grocery store in Colombia and you want back out into the sunlight, don't follow the signs with the name of the store. Because, it's just as Jean-Paul Sartre wrote, No Exit. Or No Salida. Or actually Huis Clos, because he was writing in French.

But you won't get lost. Because regardless of language you can follow the green man from the universal symbol for exit.
Green means go! Or leave. Or both.
It's the way, way, way, way out.