It sounds a little too, Anne Tyler/ Accidental Tourist, but International travels is more easily accomplished knowing a few key phrases. Just being able to say thank you goes a long way. In China, that is xiexie, in parts of Switzerland and France, merci and when coming across Romanians working in your hotels in England, mulțumesc will evoke a smile.
SNOw and I landed in Spain this last weekend ahead of meetings and customer visits on Monday. Other than a pleasant conversation with the neighbor’s gardener a few months ago, I hadn’t fully interacted with another person in Spanish since the last time I visited Barcelona about 8 years ago. On this trip, I was able to engage with moderate effectiveness.
SNOw and I were picked up at the airport by a Blacklane and delivered to our hotel in Granollers, a small town, about 30 minutes outside of Barcelona. We dropped our bags in our respective rooms and went to pick up bibs for La Mitja, the local race series. SNOw was signed up for the 10K and I was in for the half-marathon.
We wandered the sleepy streets of Granollers and with help of the hotel map, Google and the very kind locals, found the way to Ruca Humbert where this small town’s version of an expo was held. Our swag bags consisted of two bags of uncooked pasta, some beverage in a box as well as a liter of household cleaner from the company sponsoring the race. I tried to communicate to the volunteers that I didn’t need any of these things (we were at the start of a ten-day journey) but they weren’t hearing any of it, so I took the heavy bag of goodies and figured I would sort it out later.
I picked up my bib and asked, well gestured curiously where the safety pins were to secure the bibs to our race shirts. After a few gesticulations the volunteers told us there were no imperdibles. I had never heard that word before. I asked the lady to write it out for me as I knew I would not retain the word in my jet lagged state. I asked her where I could buy imperdibles and she told me at the “tienda de los Chino”. My mind was blown. “Tienda de los Chinos? The store of the Chinese? Was this some type of human trafficking ring? Why would there be a thing called the Tienda de los Chinos and why would they have imperdibles? The conversation made no sense to me. Eventually, I just asked here where the Tienda de los Chinos was and she told me there were three in the center of town. I decided to move on from this kind and lovely lady at this point as I knew I had gotten all the information I was going to get. As the race was the next morning, I knew we only had a few hours to find the imperdibles or we were going to have to find a creative way to keep our bibs on our persons during SNOw and my respective races.
We found out later in the week that the tienda de los Chinos is where you find anything miscellaneous or random and apparently if they don’t have it, they will have it the next day. I also learned that anything the Chinos don’t have, the tienda de los Paki’s (Pakistanis) will.
On the main street of Grannollers, SNOw and I hit up a few stores that looked like they might have imperdibles, but we kept being told that it would be muy dificil (very difficult) to find them. Eventually, hunger overcame us and we stopped for lunch at one of the restaurants that didn’t shut down at 2pm for siesta. After a very long lunch (as most meals are in Spain) I asked the lady behind the counter where I could find imperdibles. She said, it would be difficil, but to try la tienda de los Chino. It was good to get the same answer from a second source. I asked directions and was taken outside and directed toward the tattoo shop way down the road and then two streets beyond.
About one block up the road, my eye caught a glimpse of two ladies sitting under an easy-up with a table of dried food products. Maybe 4.5 seconds later, the back of my brain completed the translation of the sign which sat in front of them. I gleefully ran back to them while SNOw looked on at me incredulously, with the exact same “WTF is he doing now ” look that my travel companions OFTEN (possibly always) express. I asked the ladies if they were collecting food and they were, for refugees. I gladly handed them by bag of pasta, box of drink and even the liter of cleaner, because refugees must need cleaning supplies, right? The ladies were delighted and I was happy and that problem was done and dusted.
SNOw and I continued our journey up the road to find imperdibles. At the end of the two blocks we weren’t sure which way to go, and I was about to go the wrong direction when I saw a lady walking her dog. Por favor, donde esta la tienda de los chinos? She pointed two shops up and I said gracias.
We walked into the store and just inside the door was a teen-age Chinese girl with blonde (OK, not blonde, really just yellow) hair. I asked her for imperdibles and they were immediately behind her. She was selling them for 70 euro cents and I was happy to pay quadruple. I took the imperdibles to the front desk where the very Chinese mother of the teen was seated. I paid for my imperdibles and the Chinese mother said, gracias. On automatic pilot, standing in a tienda de los Chino in Spain, I looked at her smiled and responded with “xiexie”. All four of us busted up laughing.