In some of my nightmares, I suddenly find myself in a strange country where I don't know the language or the customs very well, if at all. When I wake up, I remember that this could actually happen.
I am posting this from Santiago, Chile, while some man on the TV sings a commercial, "En Verano" (In the Summer) to the tune of the Village People's old hit, "In the Navy." My Chilean-born spouse and I are in a comfortable apartment (marketed to tourists through the internet) for ten days so that we could attend the Sixth World Summit on the Arts and Culture, which ended yesterday. (You don't want to see the full description in Spanish.) Spouse and I are on the 13th floor, which gives us a breathtaking view of mountains, earthquake-proof skyscrapers (so I've been told), and colonial Spanish architecture, baked in the sun of the Southern Hemisphere.
I can feel the envy from here. What does this post have to do with worry? What do I have to worry about?
Misunderstandings and embarrassment. Two days ago, Spouse sprained her ankle while climbing steep steps, so I had to go alone to the farmacia (pharmacy), then to the nearby mercado (supermarket) for breakfast groceries. I put some fruit in plastic bags and carried them to the checkout, where I was asked (I think) how much they weighed.
"No se" (I don't know), I mumbled.
The checkout girl had obviously had a sweaty, stressful day dealing with hordes of customers, no doubt including many ignorant foreigners staying in the apartments. "Pesarla!" (Weigh it!) she told me.
I sheepishly went back to the produce section, where I noticed a young man weighing bags of fruit and vegetables and putting stickers on them. I stood in line, got my stickers, returned to the checkout, then found the right amount of currency (a ten-thousand peso note), received my change, and brought my groceries back to my temporary home. I felt relieved and accomplished.
I bring a Spanish-English dictionary with me wherever I go, but it doesn't help much in the moment. Dictionary definitions don't explain real-life contexts. Being in a foreign country is like returning to childhood.
Despite all the attractions of this place, I look forward to going home to my familiar life in snowy Canada.