I arrived in Panama with no knowledge of the Spanish tongue. However, for only being here a few months I’ve made ample progress and as can be expected, hilarious moments are a plenty.
It was during my first week in Panama. Matt went to the gym early and told me to meet him at the Bagel Café. He asked me if I knew where it was and how to get there. Of course I said.
Plus if I don’t, it’ll be a good learning experience. He hesitated and then muttered “ughhhok”. At that, I went back to sleep for another 30 minutes. When I woke up and walked out to the street, “Where the h*ll am I?” was my first thought. Then I thought to myself. Shoot, I don’t even know the cross streets. Damnit. *deep breath* Might as well figure it out. What I knew was the name of the place, New York Bagel Café, and the location, El Cangrejo.
So I start walking and nothing looks familiar. It’s 6am and the sun is out in full force. I could get a taxi. Should I? Not worth it. This is all part of the experience. I’ll just ask for directions. Hand signals are universal.
So I start approaching people on the street and the first thing I say is “No hablo espagnol!” Which means, as I assume most of you know, “I don’t speak Spanish.” At this point, they’re preparing for Chinese, maybe English. Both might make sense given my ethnicity and dress. But what they don’t know is that I know the area in which the Bagel Café is located, El Cangrejo. So with that, I completely forget that I told them I don’t speak Spanish, and in Spanish I say, “donde esta El Cangrejo?” Immediately throwing them off because I just said I didn’t speak Spanish, but now I’m asking them “Where is the crab?”
Imagine the mental processes and facial twitches upon my second question. In their mind, they’re thinking…he just said he didn’t speak Spanish. Now he’s asking me where the crab is? Does he mean the crustacean? The ocean? Is this a joke?
At this point, I start reverting to hand signals. Pointing in different directions and using the palms up confused shrugged. Inadvertently, imitating a crab.
….Complete confusion. Trepidation. Druggie?
After they realized I’m not on drugs and that I’m just an Asian lost in a foreign country, they usually understood my question. However, at this point they would usually recognize I’m looking for a district of Panama City. Similar to standing on the Brooklyn Bridge and stopping a passerby to say “I don’t speak English! Where is Manhattan?” Needless to say, I got nowhere fast. I managed to arouse some funny looks and scare a few locals, but that was about it. I ended up hailing a cab and handing him my cell phone with Matt on the line.