Mexico City, Personal Development, Social Skills

I Have Been Challenged

“I didn’t know you were such a wallflower.”

I looked over at Mauricio. He seemed dead serious. Wallflower? Me? My wallflowerin’ days are long over.

“You smug Mexican bastard. What the hell are you talking about?”

He grinned.

The Very Best Way

Mau had noticed that I don’t go out much. If he has a late night, chances are when he comes home I’m typing away at my laptop, reading, or studying Spanish.

“Why don’t you go out and make some friends?”

“Well, what would I say? My Spanish is terrible.”

He just kept grinning.

“Okay, Mr. Adventurer. I have a challenge for you.”

Mauricio had read this post. In it, I challenged myself to learn to strike up conversation with strangers. (I also did a second challenge, where I had to follow up with the people I met.) He decided this would be “the best way for you to learn Spanish.”

More likely it’s the best way to irritate three random residents of Mexico City. Still, I was intrigued. Going out and talking to total strangers, across a language barrier? That’s got to at least lead to some great stories, and who knows, maybe it really will help my Español.

The Terms of the Challenge

“You have to talk to three people you don’t know. Total strangers. You can’t choose people you think speak English. And no asking me or Gabe to translate.”

Okay, three people. I can do that. It sounds like three new friends to me. As with my original challenge, the following people don’t count:

  1. Anyone whose job is to talk to me. Cashiers, waiters – they’re paid to be nice to me. Making extra small talk with them can be a good warm-up, but that’s all.
  2. Anyone I’m introduced to. If I have an introducer, they’re not strangers. Time to cowboy up.
  3. People I have a reason to talk to. If we’re both at a party or we have a mutual interest in meeting new people, it doesn’t actually force me out of my comfort zone.

To these, Mauricio added one more condition:

If there is any kind of offer for follow up, if they invite you to a party or anywhere else, you have to accept.

Deal, mi hermano. Deal.

Results in 1 week. Please tweet and share this post.

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15 thoughts on “I Have Been Challenged

  1. Challenge aside, the other really nice thing about this is that going out and engaging Spanish speakers in conversation, however intimidating that might be for you is an extremely helpful way to make huge progress in your Spanish. The only other best way of making progress in language is reading. do both. Read a lot of Spanish (not textbooks–kids books, comics, news stories–stuff in simple language) and go out and speak, listen. Soon you will learn what you need to survive. Thus sayeth the language teacher.

    • I really appreciate that Bob. I trust your experience. I got a book that, from the title and cover image, I assumed was pulp fantasy. It’s actually an inspirational book disguised as pulp fantasy. Either way, it’s written in plain & simple Spanish and I’m reading it bit by bit.

  2. Oh, the language barriers can be either a real stressor or a whole lot of fun. Most of my language barrier situations come up with my french relatives. One time we had our cousins visit us and they didn’t speak english, so our parents became mediators. But both sets of cousins wanted to learn to speak each other’s language. So we decided that at the two dinners they would be attending with us we’d have a challenge/game. One night we would only speak english. The other night we would only speak french. One of the biggest problems they came across when speaking english was words like pork and beef, as they would say pig and cow and didn’t understand what the difference was. So me being the crazy silly person I am had my hand walk across the table oinking and emphasized the word ‘pig’. the I used my other hand to shoot the pig and emphasized the word ‘pork’. We all had a good laugh and the confusion was fixed. With these cousins we always did an action and emphasized the word with it and they would respond the same action and use their word for the same thing. Before they left we had a handle on most nouns and verbs. I am sure we would of been on full sentences by the end of two weeks together.

    I personally would approach and say something along the lines of (in translation), “I am trying to learn spanish, would you be willing to help me?” And do the action-word game. Have Fun!

    • Okay, that’s it. From now on I am making a walking-around-oinking-pig gesture with my hand and then shooting it. I’m going to do this everywhere I go. If this doesn’t make me friends I don’t know what will.

  3. Yeah, in my experience, an American just trying to speak Spanish is a very big deal to Spanish-speakers, considering the elitist attitude and expectation that everyone speak English that many Americans have. I think many will react well and be interested in helping.

  4. Just remember in the moment you are challenging yourself to “enjoy the struggle.” It will put a positive spin on the experience, no matter the verbal exchange, and keep you committed to practicing.

    • This is really good advice Mitch. If it’s just about living up to the challenge and not actually about meeting someone, that is going to come across as being very disingenuous and not listening to them.

  5. “More likely it’s the best way to irritate three random residents of Mexico City.” hehehe

    Oh, what a challenge! I can relate to this, being a wall-flower myself (more out of quietness than socially crippling shyness, although it’s a bit of that, too). I’d rather be challenged to go skydiving–but I have created similiar self-challenges.

    Good luck with the challenge. Can’t wait to hear how it went.

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