Heron Island, Great Barrier Reef, Australia

Friday, 13 April 2012

Language lessons

An interesting discovery on arriving in Barcelona: the metro's train describer display screen in Catalan reassures you that the next train will be a "PROPER TREN" (but if you should be staying out late, as people in Spain tend to do, you may find yourself relying on a Nitbus).

In that dead spot of the evening when northern Europeans are already winding down but Spaniards are barely getting ready for dinner, I was sitting in a bar, almost deserted but for me and the staff (Chinese, as it happened), and a TV displaying impressive diving skills - for a lower league football match. About half a dozen Scandinavian ladies of a certain age arrived, and started ordering (in English): but "Irish coffee" produced a blank response, as did "ice cream". I tried suggesting "café irlandes", but that was no help. "Café con whiskey" got a bit further, but the idea of putting the two together in one cup was clearly more than strange.

But what really stalled the conversation was "cream", in English or Spanish (someone once told me that a lot of Chinese people literally can't stomach dairy products, so this may not be surprising). Eventually, the barman went to look for help, and came back with an Indian man, who eventually managed to find the right word(s) in whatever common language they could find.

The others had long since settled for plain black coffee, and given up on the idea of ice-cream, when a cup was delivered with some whipped cream floating on top; but, to judge by the expression on her face, the lady in question clearly felt she needed a rather stronger slug of whiskey in it.

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