I really enjoy writing about language, it is fascinating to see how language is shaped by and shapes cultures, interactions, etc. Yesterday I was in Palermo Soho, a part of the city that is very cute but that I don’t really spend that much time in. It’s weird, because I adore the low buildings, the cute cafes and restaurants, and the relaxed feeling. However, it can be pricey and I find the shops very uninteresting. Also, I find the service there sometimes to be kind of annoying. Anyway, it is one of the few parts of the city where quite a few people speak English, since it is a popular area for hotels and it is very tourist friendly. This meant that in many of the shops, people would speak to me in English (I was with a Romanian friend, but she speaks Spanish as well). And here is where I get awkward: I appreciate the effort, and I don’t want to make them feel bad, so I go along, speaking English, even when the saleswoman’s English was really bad, and I am fluent in Spanish… Then I might forget it and speak to her in Spanish, and she is like “Oh, but you speak Spanish” and I say “Yes, I live here” and then I feel even more awkward! My initial politeness and appreciation for the effort then just feels weird!
The strange thing is that if I am in Italy, for instance, I want every chance I can get to speak Italian, so I will speak back in Italian even if spoken to in English. But I guess it is different because Spanish is second nature to me, after all these years; it is not like I have a strong desire to “practice” it – I speak it every day and have for years. Anyway, I thought this was amusing! It also made me think of something I would discuss with an Argentine friend in DC (hello, M!) – he always spoke Spanish to anyone he noticed was a Spanish speaker. To him, that was natural, while for me, doing that felt weird because it is not my first language and I felt I was transmitting that “hey, I speak Spanish better than you speak English”. Then again, I tend to over-analyze so it might just be that! 🙂