by the Night Writer
For our first week in Spain we have been participating in the English-immersion program for Spaniards run by Pueblo Ingles. Tiger Lilly is with a group of teen-agers near the French border while the Reverend Mother and I are in Cazorla in the south. Pueblo Ingles (PI) offers this experience several times a year in venues around Spain (and occasionally in Italy) and Spanish-speakers pay money to spend the week ostensibly speaking nothing but English as a way to improve their skills for business or personal reasons. To make this a more authentic and less theoretical exercise, PI recruits Anglos from around the world to come and work with the Spanish-speaking clients.
The groups are made up of equally of Spanish-speakers (they don´t like being called¨”Spaniards”, even by the Spaniards running the program) and Anglos. You spend the entire day from the time you get together at breakfast in the morning until you leave the bar late at night speaking English and explaining idioms. PI has a very well organized strategy that involves a series of hour-long one-on-one meetings, two-on-two meetings, individual telephone calls and conference calls, as well as meals and group activities where the two groups are equally mixed. There are almost 40 people in our cohort and in the last six days we have gotten to know each other well because of all the conversations and the constant rotation. Many companies pay to send their employees to PI programs but some of the guests have paid their own way for their own development. In our group of Espanoles we have two scientists from Spain´s version of the Nuclear Regulatory Agency, several teachers, a woman who owns a business in the Canary Islands, a research physicist, a doctor (rheumatologist), a couple of college students working on teaching, law or business degrees and several others. The majority of the group, both Spanish and Anglo, are women.
Given that, it was a bit of an unusual experience the other day when I was in a two-on-two session that was all men; two Americans and two Spaniards. We had a very interesting conversation about life and philosophy and at one point the youngest Spaniard, a teacher, asked the other American (another young man) what would be a good response if a friend approached you in a bar and asked how you were doing. My compatriot replied, “I´m living large and loving life!” The Spaniards liked this phrase and practiced it, trying to perfect getting the similar sounds in the right place. I then added that if a friend asked you how things were going and you were having a tough time you could say, “It´s a dog-eat-dog world and I´m wearing bacon underwear.”
This caused some consternation with our native-speakers as they were unfamiliar with the word “underwear”. It took a minute or two to explain what we were talking about and to help them grasp the humor of the statement about wearing bacon underwear when surrounded by hungry dogs. This lead into a discussion of “boxers or briefs”, and when the first young man asked my American friend what he wore, the Yank said “neither.” This brought confused looks to Juan and Fernando´s faces.
“Oh, so you´re going commando,” I said to the other American, and he responded affirmatively.
“Commando? What is commando?” asked Juan and Fernando. As this was explained they grew very animated and started laughing, even standing up and swinging their hips and saying “Commando! Commando!” As I have said, though, the group is largely female and several other two-on-twos were going on around us on the terrace. Notice was being taken and curious looks were rapidly running around the vicinity, followed by whispered explanations and more laughter as most eyes turned toward our macho group. I am so proud of my contribution to international understanding!