One of the few things which I actually feel reasonably confident about in Spanish is my vocabulary. Although I make heaps of mistakes conjugating the verbs, I am usually able to remember the words for things, or to at least describe the concept in enough detail that the listener gets what I mean.
But not everything, as I recently discovered…
Late yesterday afternoon, I realised that I had run out of what can euphemistically be described as “feminine hygiene products.” I was meeting a friend at 9p.m., and I didn’t have time to go to the supermarket, so I decided I’d drop in at the chemist down the road.
I had a look on the shelves, but I couldn’t find what I was looking for, so I joined the queue to speak to one of the pharmacists.
It was only when I reached the counter that I realised that I didn’t have a clue how to ask for said items. I had absolutely NO IDEA.
“Umm, I don’t speak much Spanish,” I began, hoping desperately that the pharmacist would say “That’s OK. I speak English.”
But she didn’t.
“I’m, umm, I’m looking for, err, things for women. If you know what I mean,” I continued valiantly.
“No. I don’t understand what you want,” she shook her head.
“You know. Ladies’ things!” I continued, raising my eyebrows. “I don’t know the word.”
“No. What ladies’ things?” the pharmacist answered, looking puzzled.
By this time, I was bright red, and the queue behind me was growing by the second. Desperate times call for desperate measures, so I decided to abandon any subtlety. “Blood. Women. Month.” I stuttered.
“Oh! Yes!” she beamed. “I know!” She reached behind the counter, and produced a box of tampons.
“Yes, yes, exactly!” I exclaimed, willing this experience to be over. “And can you tell me, what’s the word for these in Spanish?”
“Tampones” she said.
That was just the icing on the proverbial cake. I had made a complete and utter idiot of myself when I could have used virtually THE SAME WORD the whole time!
Still, I wasn’t the only one having problems. The man next to me was wanting to buy a packet of condoms. These were also stored behind the counter, necessitating another needless conversation with the pharmacist. The unfortunate gentleman was being given the third degree about what size he required, and if he preferred a particular colour, when it was clear that he just wanted to get out of there ASAP!
All I can say is, I have never been more motivated NOT to run out of things again. Although, this being said, I guess I do know the word for next time…