If two people who speak the same language natively, wouldn’t you think that they’d stick to speaking in that language?
Whatever the language might be!
English, Spanish, Mandarin, Arabic or whatever else.
Well, not always!
When I lived in a Guatemalan city called Xela for example, I remember living at some homestay for a few months.
At first, I was the only foreigner living at this homestay with a Guatemalan family.
However, some other American – about a decade older than me more or less – moved in also at some point.
His name was Adam.
From what I remember, he worked for some union in Massachusetts that represented a lot of Latinos in whatever industry.
And so the union actually paid for part of his trip to go learn Spanish in Guatemala.
When we met, I remember him introducing himself to me in Spanish.
We both very clearly knew that we are from the US and speak English natively.
Back then, my Spanish was much more shit than it is today and his could’ve used some work also.
Consequently, our initial conversations were very awkward.
Almost like a high school Spanish exam where you have to speak with another student in Spanish for the teacher to grade both of you on your Spanish abilities.
“Hola, amigo. Como esta usted?”
“Muy bien y usted, Matt?”
Something like from The Office here.
At any rate, I remember at some point asking the dude “why aren’t we speaking English?”
Because we’re both from the US right?
And he said “well, I want to practice my Spanish! Need to learn!”
However, while practicing Spanish is good, there are moments where you want to stop practicing.
Just for a tiny bit.
Especially, like in this case, both of our Spanish was shit and so any conversation we had was very awkward.
And so couldn’t we give up the Spanish practice just for a tiny bit?
Maybe an hour while watching sports at a bar?
Granted, with enough beer, I’m sure our Spanish would be ready for practice while watching football.
Regardless, this is one type of gringo you meet down here that is insistent on turning every conversation into a Spanish exam.
Personally, I don’t mind it too much.
I get it.
The guy has a limited time to be in Latin America on limited funds well spent and so he wants to exploit the opportunity with every second of his trip.
After all, he isn’t going back to Guatemala anytime soon!
And, in his case, he even had his own employer help pay for the trip.
So they might be expecting results!
Still, there’s plenty of gringos down here who turn every moment into a Spanish exam and they aren’t working with the conditions above.
No employer paying for the trip or anything like that.
In short, I don’t mind this type of gringo.
And now that my Spanish is a lot better these days, I don’t mind conversing in Spanish anymore because it’s usually not awkward.
It only becomes awkward if the other gringo legit is at a very basic level and so their communication skills are still rough.
However, while I don’t mind practicing with any gringo like that, I do find it a little bit silly if literally every single interaction has to be a Spanish exam.
Like can’t we speak English when watching sports or something?
Especially since it’s our native language and our native language skills will always be better than our Spanish skills.
That’s also why, once in a rare blue moon, I might encounter a Latino down here in Latin America whose English skills are basically fluent.
In cases like that, though I often get annoyed when locals practice their English on me down here for various reasons, I actually don’t mind speaking English with the local if their English is basically fluent.
Because I don’t see the person as necessarily trying to show off to the whole world how “EDUCADO” they are nor do I feel like an English tutor to the guy.
Though, in some cases, said Latino could be trying to sell me something and then I’d get annoyed.
Regardless, I could probably count on one hand (maybe two needed) the amount of times I’ve encountered a Latino down here who legit spoke English like it was their native language over the 6 years I’ve been here.
That level of fluency, at least in my experience, isn’t common at all.
Though your results will vary by who you hang out with obviously.
Still, going back to the gringo who turns every interaction into a Spanish exam, there’s a few other motivations that I’ve noticed for why some do it.
Let’s get to it.
“Respect the Culture!”
This is another type of gringo who insists on always speaking in Spanish because “it’s part of the culture” and rude to the locals if we don’t speak their language while in their country.
Honestly, I’m not sure how common this type of gringo is.
I’ve met more of the type who wants to exploit the opportunity of living down here to improve their language skills a little more often than this type.
Perhaps because I don’t hang out with gringos who are obsessed with politics and are far left leaning.
Which, at least in my minimal experience with this type, they seem to have a commonality in always being far left leaning.
Not sure if it’s just a coincidence.
Anyway, they’ll insist, as I said, to only speak Spanish most of the time because “it’s part of the culture here” and you “have to respect it.”
Given the politics of these people, I do wonder if they expect the same amount of assimilation of Latino immigrants in the US?
Just a question.
Anyway, I agree and both disagree with this type of gringo.
On one hand, I do sometimes think funny of the local Latinos who insist on always speaking English and who seemingly do not like anything from their own country.
Among the women, we call those gringo hunters since they behave like that at times.
But you got other Latinos like this also who, from my experience, seem to want to “pass as gringo” and they sometimes disassociate themselves from anything of their own country.
So, when it comes to “respecting the culture,” I will say that I can’t respect as well the self-hating Latino who doesn’t respect his own roots.
Nor, on the flip side, could you respect a gringo who acts the same against his own country.
Or really anyone who tries to be something that they are not.
Either way, to a degree, I get the logic behind “respect the culture.”
Though, on the flip side, I find it ironic because many Latinos would prefer to practice in English than “respect the culture” by speaking Spanish.
Many don’t see it as disrespect to their culture if they can practice English!
However, you do have plenty also who find it respectful or impressive if you actually can speak some Spanish.
Regardless, the only other thing I have to say here is that I don’t think it’s disrespectful to the culture if we sometimes engage in English.
It’s like the previous type of gringo – why can’t we speak in English while watching sports?
You can’t drop it for an hour to just relax in our native language?
It’s all a bit silly to me.
Anyway, there’s one other example to bring up.
When in a Room of Latinos
Back when I lived in Roma Norte of Mexico City some odd months ago, I remember meeting another American for the first time in a while named Alex.
He was from Florida and was about my age.
You can read the first time I met the dude here.
Now, in Alex’s case, he actually wasn’t the type of gringo to turn every interaction into Spanish.
He did want to practice it every so often but he was perfectly comfortable speaking English when we were hanging out.
Though, as I recall, there were the few mornings where he’d be tired at 7 AM making coffee and trying to dish out his best Spanish practice.
To which he’d then go “ah fuck it, it’s too early for Spanish. So what are you up today?”
Anyway, it was most common for us to speak Spanish when other neighbors were around us.
Almost all of them being Mexicans.
While one or two of them spoke some English OK, most of the people in the building didn’t speak a lick of English.
And so, if we happened to be part of a larger group full of Mexicans, we’d speak in Spanish to each other most of the time.
I’m not sure why he would prefer Spanish while in a group setting but I preferred it at least.
Mostly because, at least from my perspective, I do think it’s a little bit rude to be in a group setting speaking another language that most of the people in the group can’t understand.
Like if two Latinos were speaking Spanish in a larger group of non-Spanish speakers.
Or if two gringos were speaking English in a larger group of non-English speaking Latinos.
It’s not the worst offense in the world to do this but I think it’s not considerate of the fact that not everyone can understand you.
Yes, it’s not their business technically to know everything you are saying.
Still, you’re in a group setting (maybe a rooftop gathering), and so maybe you should actually respect that social setting?
After all, most of the people can’t understand you and you’re part of the group!
That’s just how I see it – if I’m in a group setting, I’d prefer to usually speak in the language that everyone understands.
If I want to say something privately, I can always speak one on one with whomever I am speaking with.
Want your privacy? That’s a way to do it.
Is there any other situation where you find that speaking Spanish is forced into the setting?
Or any other type of gringo that wants or feels some need to practice Spanish always?
Give any examples you know of or have seen personally in the comment section below.
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Thanks for reading.