As a Ph.D student in physics, I went to a collaboration meeting in Boulder, Colorado in the U.S.A., and took an extra week off for driving around the neighbouring states: Colorado, Utah, Arizona,… I had rented a car which, like most American cars, had an automatic transmission which made it much easier to drive for hours on end without getting tired. At least, without getting tired of driving. I did get tired of the radio stations which in those places only played country music and sermons. In the end, in Flagstaff, Arizona, I bought two tapes, one of Bo Diddley and one of Creedence Clearwater Revival, and listened to those instead. Much better. And of course, if I say “Flagstaff Arizona”, Chuck Berry fans will already have thought of route 66, which indeed I drove on for a few miles although it is not really used as a main road anymore. Other things I remember: a Navajo guide in Monument Valley who asked me, being a physicist, to drop a nuclear bomb on Washington, bookstores that served tea, music shops that sold guns, and a tacky dancing where a married wife tried to hit on me but got stopped by her brother-in-law, and endless roads, endless roads, just like in the movies. And, of course, I remember Las Vegas.
I am not a great talker. I don’t really enjoy it. And I don’t see why people would make the talking process take longer than strictly necessary. Why say: ‘Yes, I agree with you’ if you can just as well say: ‘yes’? Or – indeed – why say anything at all, if you agree anyway? As you can imagine, meetings at work are a torture to me, telephone calls are life threatning and my choice to live in Spain (a country that lives for two things only: eating and speaking, preferably at the same time) was, in this respect, maybe not well thought through.
However, the problem existed also in the Netherlands, and to show it’s not only a matter of being a grumpy old man, it existed as well when I was young.
I was about 14 years old and I was invited to the home of a friend. Actually, we were not really very good friends, and I am not sure we even liked each other much, but anyway, we were class mates and I was at his place, in his room. We were playing some very complicated board game, involving dice, ships and special bonus cards and it was my turn. I was thinking very hard about what was going on and then his mother came in with tea. She said: ‘hi’, and I answered: ‘hi’, and she said: ‘I have brought tea’ and we both said: ‘thank you’, and then I went back to the game, trying to figure out the rules and what I was supposed to do. Meanwhile, somewhere in the background, she kept on talking but I did not pay attention. Only when suddenly there fell a silence I looked up and saw on their faces that some kind of answer was expected from me. My thoughts were still elsewhere and I said: ‘Yes, goodbye’ and turned back to that bloody game again.
It was the embarrassed laugh of my class mate that told me that I had done something wrong. I looked up, suddenly blushing heavily but it was already too late. ‘Yes, goodbye!’ his mother snapped back and then went out of the room, closing the door with an exclamation mark. Unable to think of ways to fix the situation (apologize, jump out of the window) I just pretended it hadn’t happened and we went on playing the game.
I don’t remember how I got out of the house. If it hadn’t been on the 4th floor, I would have sworn I did jump out of the window.
(Disclaimer: I am not sure the following is only true in Barcelona or only in Cataluña or in entire Spain.)
There seem to be various ways of saying sí (yes) in Spanish:
- Sssss. In case of a very strong truth, where the speaker is not entirely sure that the person he speaks to is aware of this truth. Also applies in the case where there is a clear disagreement and the speaker really wants to emphasize that the answer is, indeed, sí.
- sÊh. It has to be a really short e and a hardly pronounced h on the end. The s at the beginning is not really there at all. The entire thing hardly makes a sound really. It is used affirmatively, in cases where someone has said something clearly true and the speaker only wants to express his complete agreement.
- Si. All other cases.
There are also two ways to pronounce no (no):
- T-t-t-t-t (move one finger from left to right and back). Equivalent to ni pensar o ni te ocurre, in other words: no <expletive> way, don’t even think about it, out of the question, absolutely not!
- No. All other cases.