Monday, March 5, 2012

Fun with Spanish, 1: At the beach

While I've focused generally on cultural adventures in this blog, the truth is that language is culture. There's a great deal to be learned about a country or a people through its language. It's true that I go to Spanish classes two to three times a week at the Escuela Oficial de Idiomas (Official Language School), but my real classroom is in Calle Mayor, in the bars and theaters of this city, in the grocery stores and train stations and in the new friendships I've made. So, my thought is to add a new language feature here, mini blog posts to teach you some small Spanish somethings I'm picking up here in my daily life.

Today's iteration has to do with the ocean--well, sort of.

1) Scrambled sea
Let's say you're at the beach on a blazing hot day. Your sailboat-owning friend invites you on a tour around the bay. That sounds good, you say-- but just as you are preparing to depart, a couple of threatening black thunderheads roll in, and a stiff breeze kicks up. You hear peals of thunder, and even the water in the marina is roiling. Going on this boat ride would be a one-way ticket to seasick central. You turn to your friend and say sadly, "El mar está revuelto."

Strictly speaking, you're calling the water "choppy" the way we would in English, unsettled or uneven. The interesting thing here is that the direct translation is "The sea is scrambled"--the same sort of "scrambled" that shows up to describe eggs on bar menus all over Spain, usually accompanied by an assortment of cheeses, chorizo, or mushrooms. No "choppy" equivalents here-- Spaniards prefer a different kitchen metaphor for their seas.

2) Hangover or undertow?
I first learned the word "hangover" from a couple of Columbian students who attended the school where I taught in Boston. "Una resaca" was an all-purpose excuse for them, explaining lateness, distraction, or exhaustion. Las resacas are topics of much discussion here in Spain as well--mostly as a point of pride if one can survive a particularly difficult morning after last night's festivities, or else if one never gets a hangover at all. (These individuals are particularly to be envied by those of us who hangover after half a glass of wine.)

The concept gets linguistically more interesting when you find out that the word for an undertow at a beach is also "una resaca." Not only does it make the age-old admonition not to swim when there's an undertow doubly wise-- it also creates a much more evocative description of the experience of a-morning-after. Who among us hasn't felt like he or she was being sucked into a deep, dark void after a night getting especially friendly with tequila or rum?

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