As I wrote in a previous article, I recently went to some café event to meet other foreigners in Mexico City.
There was like a total of 10 people more or less where we met in the south of the city.
And, as mentioned in a previous article, interesting stories were being thrown around like having Mexican cops plant drugs on you and so forth.
At any rate, aside from the interesting stories, there was one interesting moment that was kinda funny and interesting to witness.
Perhaps interesting because it normally wouldn’t have been impressive to me or at least would’ve seem like something that is not worthy of mentioning.
That was when one woman in the group – some Canadian gal – was discussing her journey with learning Spanish.
Now, to be fair, it is an achievement for anyone to learn a foreign language.
Even if they are from a community where everyone learns multiple languages, I’d still say it’s an achievement.
It’s a cool thing to do, no?
Good for you!
So she begins recounting how she learned Spanish but only after a moment of correcting someone else’s Spanish.
Right before she got into her life story, we were taking our time to order from the menu.
Some American dude in the group tried his best Spanish and – though it was only to order coffee – it wasn’t bad!
He got everything right grammatically and pronounced all the words right except for one minor detail.
That minor detail being where he said “la café.”
“Yo quiero la café de …”
And it was some menu item that had its own name.
I forgot what it was called but something fancy sounding like “…..de America” or whatever.
At any rate, it was fine!
A small grammatical error but the waitress perfectly understood what he said, took his order and moved on.
Once she left, the Canadian gal – some Asian chick – proceeded to correct him.
And, to be fair to her, she wasn’t an absolute cunt about it either.
But, for whatever reason, she just wanted to “make a suggestion” to him on how to “speak the language properly.”
Literally her words, not mine.
The dude looked at her, half smile and said “oh alright.”
And she said something like “it’s el café. Masculine pronouin.”
To which the dude responded pretty normally about how “I always make that mistake. It’s so different from English, no? El and La. I always confuse those two” he says chuckling along.
And others chime in and it becomes a mini point of conversation for the next 3 to 5 minutes.
In which the Asian Canadian gal doubles down after seeing the dude brush off the minor criticism about his Spanish.
At this point, she doesn’t really focus on his Spanish anymore but more about going on her journey of learning Spanish as I said.
Just a basic monologue seemingly about how “she started Spanish in high school, has always been challenging but she overcame it.”
And so on and so on.
Some other chick in the group sitting next to her chimed in and congratulated her for how well she has taken on learning Spanish.
And that mini congratulations really seemed to shine a bright light on her face.
She looked quite proud bathing in the compliment.
To which she said something to the effect of “I know. I just wish more people would take language learning seriously. Not many people where I’m from even speak another language!”
And, being honest, I did doubt that internally when she said that because, being she’s from Canada, I did think to myself “uhhh….French?”
Granted, I’m not very familiar with Canada and so I don’t know how many Canadians actually know French or not.
Regardless, while this specific incident was nothing more than just that – a random chick taking the time to correct a very minor grammatical mistake of another person and using the opportunity to talk about how she learned a foreign language when “nobody back home does,” – I did find something curious and funny about the incident as I said before.
The “Educado” Gringo
It’s a certain irony, isn’t it?
Throughout my blog, I often take stabs at local Latin Americans who exhibit similar behavior in trying to come across as “muy educadoooo” or “educated” by showing how great their English is.
And, as I always let on, I do at times find it annoying or odd.
Still, I’ve never really interacted with too many other foreigners in Mexico whatsoever until recently.
But, before I began living in Mexico, I do now remember the occasional rare moment of a gringo acting like the above also.
The more notable example that comes to mind is during my first trip to Chiapas, Mexico almost a decade ago in which there was this chick that came along as part of our group.
She was an American chick who was in her early 20s.
And was definitely the type of person to feel superiority over language.
Her bragging about how well she knew Spanish knew no bounds and she often would try to be the “group translator” for everything even when it wasn’t necessary.
In a way, I guess for her specifically, it was nothing more than just a way to feel proud of her language achievement and show off how well she knows Spanish (a foreign language).
Being honest, I don’t remember too many other moments of other foreigners acting like this down here outside of a rare few other moments that weren’t any different beyond just another foreigner wanting to show how well he speaks another language, taking great pride in doing so and at times acting like he or she wants to feel superior to others on that basis.
But, as I said, ever since I began living in Mexico and away from South America, I haven’t met too many foreigners like that because most of my time here hasn’t involved hanging out with other foreigners.
Still, the point, at the service level, is nothing more than to emphasize how gringos (the word gringo being used liberally here for any foreigner) can often be guilty of “language superiority” like the Latin Americans I complain about on my blog.
On top of that, I guess it’s to say also that similar annoying or condescending behaviors can be seen across groups and that no group is innocent of types like this.
Stuff that we might complain about as gringos in regards to what Latin Americans do can sometimes be seen amongst people from our own countries also.
And, beyond it all, you might ask “why are people like this when it comes to language superiority?”
Honestly, I’m not entirely sure.
For one, obviously who doesn’t like to come across as educated? Feel better then themselves? Sure.
Second, I think that, at least in a Latin American context, it is tied to classism also. You got classism in both countries but, as an American, nobody I know realty associates speaking other languages with being of a higher class. We might associate it with being “more educated” but, from an outsider observation, there’s a part of me that feels that Latin Americans are more likely to associate a class relation with how well you speak other languages (or have travelled).
After all, someone who speaks English very well might’ve gone to good schools that cost more to learn it.
Though, as I shoot from the hip here, I think that statement is more true for those NOT born in countries like Mexico, the DR, Guatemala, etc.
Because, in those countries, you DO have more normal people who spent time in the US and have learned English. While plenty of Mexicans are still obsessed with learning English and showing how “educado” they are, I’m not entirely sure if the “class association” is as strong in their minds when they see someone speaking English given so many normal folks have learned it quite well also.
That’s just a theory of mine though. You can agree or disagree with it obviously and my theory above probably does need more modifications.
Third, I think that one of the reasons for why non-immigrant North Americans (and especially those not from Quebec) see language learning or travel as a thing to brag about is because not as many people do either of the above.
A European who has a smaller country in a union like the EU where more language learning is necessary and it’s easier to travel to nearby small countries might not see it as big of a deal to brag about.
Whereas, with the American or Canadian from a huge country where you don’t have as many nearby countries that speak a different language, you can still travel domestically and see a lot and have less pressure to learn other languages.
So, for those who do those things like travel abroad or learn another language, it is maybe a little more remarkable for us.
And, to a degree, I think a lot of Latin Americans are the same but with a slight difference.
For us Americans and Canadians, we already know English and English is a highly valuable language internationally.
For Latin Americans, many feel pressure to learn English for various reasons (even if if’s overemphasized at times to them in my opinion) but the pressure is there nonetheless.
Similar to us though, at least in my experience with dealing with people here, I don’t notice many of them actually speaking English well (or any other language unless it’s an indigenous person) and many don’t really travel much either.
It’s from those observations that I see a lot of Latin Americans as sharing that similarity with Canadians and Americans above but with some differences like their pressure to learn English.
Still, that might explain, at least in part, why this desire to brag about traveling and learning other languages is a phenomenon often seen in the Americas versus Europe perhaps.
Be it the Latin American who brags about his English or his trips to Miami or NYC for shopping (or somewhere else like in Europe or Asia).
To the American or Canadian who does something similar.
In many ways, while we have our many noticeable differences between both regions of the Americas, we often share many similarities also in my opinion.
Finally, as I said before, I don't want to be "counter snobby" and look down upon anyone who has traveled or learned a foreign language.
If you have done those things, that is cool and worthy to be happy about.
This is more against those who just use those achievements to look down upon others who haven't traveled or learned a language like they have.
At any rate, that’s all I got to say.
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Thanks for reading.
And enjoy this video of US politicians trying their best with Spanish or Latin American politicians trying their best with English here.