When Speaking in Spain, Always Take a Picture

18 Jul 2008
July 18, 2008

Gracias por haberme invitado aqui a hablar con ustedes hoy. Yo hablo poco Español, asi que continuo en Ingles. Vamos a empezar.

I’m used to speaking in front of large groups of people. But even though I’ve been doing it since my days as a college prof, I always get just a little bit nervous. In fact, I go through the same regimen every time I ready myself to speak. Suddenly I hear myself saying: “I don’t want to give this talk. I DO NOT want to give this talk!” I’ve heard myself repeat this pre-presentation mantra so often I now laugh when the inevitable thought comes to mind. I always get nervous. It’s a way of keeping me on my toes and down to earth. I’m used to it.

But I’m not used to speaking to people who don’t understand me. I don’t have to visualize everyone naked to relax. Instead, I just think of my speeches as conversations. No matter how large the audience may be, I always find someone in the crowd I can talk with. So as the days and hours before my Spanish speaking debut closed in I wondered: how can I have a conversation with people who don’t speak my language? Yes, there was going to be simultaneous translation but would the subtlety of my verbal and visual jokes translate? Would they get it? I needed to connect with them so I had good reason to be nervous this time.

Thanks to the help of my kind organizers I put my whole PowerPoint and a handout into Spanish. And, most importantly, I rehearsed my opening remarks in Español. In the shower and on the john I thanked everyone for inviting me here to Aranjuez (that’s Aranjueth with a th, just like the natives pronounce it). I wanted to look them in the eyes when I said it. You know, like I was really chatting with them.

When I was first invited to speak here I had fantasies of giving this talk entirely in Spanish. But that was dashed decades before this engagement when I totally rejected the Latino culture I grew up in and took, first French and then German in high school and college. A lot of good that did me now. Thank you for inviting me to speak to you here today. I speak a little Spanish so I’ll continue in English. Let’s get started!

Suddenly, I was sitting up in front of the room all by myself. Everyone had earphones; I could hear the translator in her soundproof booth. Rufino Ferreras Marcos introduced me. I felt like I was speaking in front of the U.N. I took a sip of water, trying to steady my hand as I brought it to my muy seco lips (they were so parched I sounded like I cotten in my mouth).

And then I had an idea. It was crazy but I was on a different planet by then. I took out my camera and suddenly told everyone: “I have to take a photograph of all of you to prove to my bosses that I really am giving a talk this week in Spain and not on vacation.” I lifted the camera just as the translator finished. They laughed; I snapped. We laughed. Un peso pesado levantado fuera de mí.

My Spanish Audience

I snapped the photo just as they heard my words in Spanish. Click for a larger image.

Later that evening I retold this story to said bosses, attaching the photo as proof. Our museum’s deputy director quickly responded, telling me my photo didn’t prove a thing. I wasn’t even in it! When I told the group this the next morning they laughed again. But then someone quickly produced a camera. And there was a picture of me taking a picture of them. Proof positive.

Yep, I found a few people in Aranjuez to chat with this week. It was no vacation but it did have its moments.

Related Stories: Traveling Abroad: A Pre- Pre-flight Checklist and Spain: The Post-Flight Recap

2 replies
  1. Dona says:

    That was great, Jeff! It made me smile. Glad the talk went well.

  2. Elena says:

    Hola Jeff!! Heh, heh, you made a post about your experience at Aranjuez city! ;-) Hope you continue your Spanish lessons. By the way, you did not take a sip of water but two bottles of water. Take care!

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