Skirting glances. Sweaty palms. Racing heart.
As a woman foreigner in a city of almost 10 million inhabitants with a first language different than my own, leaving for the evening on my own that Thursday was a big step for me. It was a preliminary step to my newfound independence here in Lima.
I was planning to head to a night of intercambio at a local bar in Miraflores and had deduced the most cost effective (and environmentally friendly) option for me to get to and from my outing would be to ride the bus.
So, head to the nearest bus stop after dinner I did. Easy.
Take the next T bus headed west along Salaverry and then south toward Miraflores. Check.
But my actual hurdle for the night was trying to figure out how to ask the cobrador what time the buses stop running (ultimately deciding what time I’d need to leave the event).
So, as I stood waiting for the cobrador to approach me for my pasaje after subiendo (getting on the bus), I mentally prepared my statement.
“A qué hora dejan de operar los buses?”
This simple (possibly, badly worded) sentence was not understood my first attempt asking him, nor my second, third and (probably equally as badly) reworded fourth attempts. The amount we understood each other’s accents was next to naught.
I was getting nowhere aside from gaining the curiosity of Peruvians seated around us.
Finally, I resorted to what everyone knows best: hand motions.
With a lot of pointing at the floor of the bus, shimmying my hands in front of me to signal a steering wheel and a prayer, he finally understood me.
“Once y media” was the reply I tried for at least a minute to receive.
I quickly took a newly available seat next to an older gentleman. He smiled shyly at me, and I pretended not to notice the rest of the glances in my direction as the bus jerked and dodged through the always heavy, Lima traffic.
Needless to say, from this experience and ones thereafter, I’ve realized that learning how to effectively communicate with barriers in ambiguous situations is important in any venture.
The same can be said for learning how to effectively communicate according to varying contexts.
If I had a dime for every time I didn’t understand someone who asked me “De dónde vienes?” my first month here, I’d have at least a dollar.
Prior to coming to Peru, I’d only ever heard “De dónde eres?” when being asked about where I’m from.
I’ve known for years that the verb “venir” means to come; in all matters, that simple switch of verbs from “ser” to “venir” threw me off for weeks.
I used to reply back to whomever asked me with the location I just left (mi casa, la Universidad del Pacífico), which usually landed me a confused look.
Just recently I’ve begun to realize the importance of the context of the situation when speaking Spanish. Just like English, everyday words have different meanings depending on the context in which they’re used.
But since English is my mother tongue, I never gave that a second thought.
Whenever I’m asked “De dónde vienes?” is usually during an introduction where I’m telling the listener about my background and why I’m in Peru.
My point is that nonverbal communication and past experiences help us infer what’s being communicated when we’re unsure of the exact meaning. Relying solely on semantic meanings (a.k.a. literal/ conventional meanings of sentences) doesn’t always work.
Over time and through many teachable moments, pragmatic competence and knowledge (a.k.a. conversational meaning) is acquired.
In some instances, a good dictionary or a helpful bilingual can help you through tough times when dealing with translation or communication problems. Other times, using hand movements or writing helps.
There are a myriad of examples that could be used, but they all boil down to one point. (Look right >>>)
There will not always be someone or something to save you when you don’t know what to do.
More often than not, the first or second attempt at something won’t work, and you’ll have to figure it out from there, as was my case.
What’s important to remember is that everyone makes mistakes, but whether you choose to learn from them is your decision. How you compose yourself at this time is your decision. What you choose to remember when someone corrects you is your decision.
It’s your life.
So, next time you’re troubled with something and don’t know how to deal with it, try considering different ways of approaching the problem.
There are always multiple solutions. Sometimes all it takes is willpower and creative thinking to get the ball rolling. And if you’re stuck in a rut, consult the help of those whom know you best (or maybe not at all).
Take a breath. Consider options. Pick one. Act on it. If it doesn’t work the first time, try a different approach.
Every acted upon realization helps to become a more independent, self-sufficient individual tomorrow.