A long tale of fascism, broken Spanish, and women's spandex
My Spanish has proven to be a strange amalgam of phrases, conjugations, and vocabulary, developed over 7+ years of inconsistent education. While my accent is relatively advanced, thanks to my father’s fluent ridicule of any mispronunciation, the percentage I understand of each conversation varies wildly. This percentage dips wildly any time a large amount of pressure is entered into the situation. For instance, convincing my señora that it was in fact her Wi-Fi that was broken and not my computer was no easy feat, especially considering we were both proudly defending our own technology. Talking to the IT representative on the phone in Spanish did prove successful, though it took three days sin-internet before he was contacted, explaining the tardiness of this post for which I apologize. The day-to-day pressure to communicate has been difficult but definitely rewarding; however, it only took one instance of “trial by gunfire” to shake the confidence I had gathered to its very foundation.
El Corte Inglés
is a monopoly in Spain. It is a combination of Saks Fifth Avenue, Radio Shack, WalMart, Dick’s Sporting Goods, and Stop and Shop. Each Corte Inglés
is a sprawling labyrinth where space and time lose all meaning, replaced with pure capitalism and just a small taste of fascism, a flavor I got to experience during one ill fated shopping exploration. A friend and I went to El Cortes Inglés
near my apartment one day after classes to buy towels and water bottles for our gym routine. We made our journey up to the 6th floor of one of the buildings of El Corte Inglés’
north Madrid compound. We found ourselves deep within the camping and outdoors section of the sports department, comparing each microfiber towel looking for the most cost effective option. We picked out our towels and Nalgenes
and headed over to the check out counter. The two girls behind the desk were distractedly pricing out various hiking clothing while loudly gossiping and laughing. They continued their blather while ringing up my compatriot’s items and then mine.
I finally made it down the stairs, but as I walked through the front door to freedom, the alarm began to ring. A man in a red sports coat came forward to check our receipts and bags. Taking my bag, he removed a towel, a Nalgene
, and a box I had never seen before. Upon further inspection the box proved to be women’s hiking spandex, marked down to 47€. I quickly explained, in broken Spanish, that this was not my spandex and that I had no idea that it was in bag. He looked at me bemusedly and signaled over for a uniformed security guard to come over and listen to my desperate attempts to convince him that I had no intention to steal women’s spandex. This guard took my receipt and bag and shepherded me and my “partner in crime” to a back room. This room was plain concrete with some workers moving in and out of the service elevators located at the back. Our leading officer left and was replaced by two more guards who spoke no English as well. My Spanish skills took a nosedive as nerves vastly overtook my ability. I resorted to unconjugated verbs and pantomime in an effort to get my story across to these new guards. We were then joined by who I assumed to be one of the managers in the long string of command of the sports department. He came down, examined the box of women’s spandex and began speaking in rapid Spanish. I followed to a point before everything he said became a string of buzzing syllables and gestures. I stared blankly and began shaking my head. Seeing my confusion, he slowed down and upon a third recitation, I finally understood that he was saying that I could either buy the spandex now, or he would have to call his boss who would absolutely call the police. I contested immediately, I never wanted women’s spandex and I was not about to shell out 47€ for a pair. In even more fractured Spanish, as anger mixed with my fear, I asked them to talk to the women behind the desk, as they would surely back up our story. They stated they simply could get them involved, for reasons that I could not understand in Spanish, but I’m sure were not legitimate. Then we asked them if we could look at the security tape, a request they quickly rebuffed without explanation. At this point one of the guards asked for our identification so that he could copy it down for purposes we were not really sure of, a request we begrudgingly submitted to. Another guard then put forth their final deal, repeated multiple times until we understood it; we could buy the spandex now, leave, and even return it the next day. 45 minutes had passed and I was fed up with all of these proceedings. I agreed, but when I took out my debit card to pay he insisted that I only pay in cash. It was at this point that I noticed the pistol and munitions belt adorned by these glorified mall cops. My friend and I simultaneously came to the conclusion that we were being shaken down by the private police force of a monopoly chain store for 47€. We had been targeted because I had a punk haircut and we were clearly lost Americans without a solid grasp on the language. Fucking fascists. At this point disgusted, I declared that I did not have that much cash on me, calling their bluff. The head mall-cop in charge of our investigation stepped out to call his boss, and upon clarifying to his “lieutenant” that we were North Americans, we were quickly heralded out of the store with a short and slow warning that we could not return that day, but were welcome any other time in the future. My friend and I quickly ran to the nearest restaurant to get a hamburger and coke, disenchantment with this once fascist country slowly creeping in.
All it takes is having a mall-cop with a gun yelling at you in rapid Spanish to make you doubt everything you have ever known about the language. While my Spanish is usually at about a 7th grade level, I was reduced to the comprehension of a toddler. Thanks to the Orwellian compound of El Cortes Inglés
I found myself quickly feeling completely disconnected from a city I had been living in for almost a month. Since this experience I have successfully reconnected and forgiven Spain and its language, though I will not be returning to El Cortes Inglés
, though it is highly likely that necessity will one day trump my embargo. I came back from this experience with the same understanding that many Spaniards have had for years; for (my) Spanish to continue to prosper, it’s probably better to avoid fascists.