PREPARE TO EXPLORE
Choose your own adventure travel blog
My wife and I really wanted to be prepared for our trip to Cuba. That meant that on top of planning day trips, finding good restaurants and bars and everything else that goes into planning a good trip, we would also have to learn -- or relearn -- some Spanish.
Thanks to a trade embargo between the United States and Cuba since the 1960s, the vast majority of visitors were not English speaking Americans. They were, in fact, French speaking Canadians. As a result, many in Cuba’s hospitality industry decided to learn French to accommodate all the French-Canadian tourists.
So when Cuba was opened to Americans in 2016, few waiters, bartenders, cab drivers and others in the service industry spoke English. That meant that if we wanted to be able to make our way around Cuba, we needed to relearn Spanish.
Abby and I had both taken Spanish in high school and college. But, with little need for it, we had forgotten most of what we learned.
Then came the stunningly embarrassing situation about halfway through our week-long trip. Across from our Centro Havana AirBnB was a small fried chicken restaurant. You could get several pieces of fried chicken, fries and a drink for $5. And they used that old school grease, which made everything incredible tasting.
One night, we decided to grab a quick dinner there. But this time, I was going to do the ordering. I said in my best Spanish, “¿Puedo tener dos órdenes de pollo y papas fritas?” I got blank stares from the young, dark-skinned Cuban girl behind the counter. So I said it again. More blank stares.
My wife scoffed, ushered me aside then ordered. The workers whipped up two orders and we were on our way. I thought, “That was weird.”
Abby said as we were leaving, “What were you doing? You can’t just yell at them and expect them to understand?” Thoroughly confused, I was just resigned that my Spanish was really terrible. Abby spoke for us for the rest of the trip.
It wasn’t until almost a year later -- during a retelling for the story -- that I figured out what had happened. For some reason my brain actually thought it was ordering in Spanish, but it turned out that I was just speaking loudly in English. My whole order was in English. It’s not that the woman couldn’t understand my terrible Spanish, it’s that she couldn't understand my English.
My wife found this revelation to be very funny at my expense. Here I was, thinking myself some cultured, world traveler, when I was just a big dumb American tourist.
Have you ever absolutely embarrassed yourself while traveling? Let me know in the comment section.
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