The Story: One of the best backhanded compliments I ever received while travelling was when I was wandering around Córdoba, Spain, and found myself in a local artists’ enclave where a handful of painters, sculptors and artisans worked and sold their art.
I spotted this beautifully stylized bust of a flamenco dancer in one of the studios, and went inside to admire the piece closer.
Being a working studio, the artist was there, so I struck up a conversation with him using a combination of rudimentary Spanish (I was feelin’ cocky since I had been in Spain for all of one week) and Italian that I had learned when I lived in Rome years before. It turned out he was studying Italian, so the blind led the blind, and we managed to communicate about famous artists we liked, Canadian artists he hadn’t heard of, how he had a business designing papier maché chandeliers for restaurants in the city, etc. Somehow we managed to butcher two languages sufficiently to make ourselves understood, and of course part of this exchange included my complimenting him on his work.
That’s when I received a compliment from him in return: he told me that I spoke Spanish quite well, but with an Italian accent. (This I found particularly funny, because I couldn’t even speak Italian with an Italian accent!)
I purchased the flamenco dancer bust, which was quite delicate and weighed next-to-nothing (apparently, ‘fragile’, ‘cumbersome’ or ‘really heavy’ are my go-to adjectives for anything I bring home on a plane) and every time I look at it, I’m reminded of what I love most about travelling: the satisfaction of being able to genuinely connect with someone from a different culture – even if our verb tenses get a bit messed up, or the accents aren’t quite right.
For me, that is the greatest compliment of all.
The Fact: Córdoba is actually pronounced with the emphasis on the first ‘o’ and a ‘v’ sound for the ‘b’. And if you think Córdoba is a test for your language skills, practice up your lisp for Barcelona (pronounced BarTHElona), where Spain’s second official language, Catalan, is your next challenge!