Eating and drinking my way through life and learning all the while

Attempting to decipher a new Spanish phrase in a bar

Part of the beauty of living in a country and immersing yourself is no matter how lazy you are with formal language study there are always words or new phrases that you just pick up by being there and being curious.

When I first started studying Spanish and came across a new word in class, my Spanish teacher used to show me all the different variations of what that word means in different contexts and the related words. At first that could be confusing and overwhelming but in reality it is creating a sort of spider mind map of the word and locking it in to different parts of your brain through multiple associations.

I’m still learning Spanish and my aural comprehension isn’t that great. My brain is taking a while to connect the dots, especially after being out of the country for so long and not hearing Spanish everyday. You know that feeling like when you have a great come back in an argument but only remember it afterwards and it’s too late. It’s a bit like that, I’m hearing things and my brain is taking a while to process what I’ve heard and only later I realise I actually understood the meaning, but the moment or interaction has passed.

But context is everything and being somewhere and figuring out what someone is likely to be saying in that situation is helping me decipher Spanish and learn new words and phrases. Even if there is a slight delay to my brain doing the deciphering.

For example, last Wednesday I went to a blues gig and a beautifully tattooed girl sat in front of me and said something to me. I didn’t quite catch or understand what she said, she repeated it three times until finally my brain caught up.

She said, ¿Estoy tapando?

So what could she possibly have meant? Tapando sounds like it comes from the verb ‘tapar’ which is what gives us the most well known Spanish word after hola!, ‘tapas‘.  Tapas originated from the old Andalucían custom to cover your drink with a piece of bread to protect it from flies and later became the word to describe little bites of food given in bars with drinks. In Granada, a province in Andalucía, the tapas is still free and is given with each drink as a gift of the house.

Words ending in -ando or –eando signal the gerundio tense which are verb formations that typically end in -ing in English, doing, saying, singing etc. So if ‘tapar‘ is ‘to cover’, tapando is ‘covering’. Am I covering? In the context of a gig, she’s saying, Am I covering? Am I blocking your view? Am I in your way? Can you see?

Well you can see why I was confused. In London, no one gives a fuck about blocking anyone’s view at a gig and mostly no one talks to strangers unless they really have to do so. But Madrid is a warmer, friendlier, more open city and when she sat in front of me her concern was if she was covering or blocking my view.

So my new phrase for that day was ¿Estoy tapando? Am I covering your view? Got it. I will look less dumb next time someone says this.

What is a new phrase or word you have learnt by being somewhere? And what is the meaning /origin of the word? How will you remember it?

NB. I’m no Spanish teacher this is just my observations of learning the Spanish language and trying to remember it as best I can.


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