Some people, apparently, have an ear for language. I have a club foot.

There was the time, a number of years ago, when I tried to impress the Parisian concierge with my command of her language after she asked if we speak French. I confidently replied, I thought, that we try.

Instead, I apparently said, we wipe.

Then there was the time I helped an older French woman with her grocery bags and she thanked me profusely. I responded perfectly in kind, telling her, apparently, that I didn’t give a damn.

In Venice, once, I tried to buy a ticket on a vaporetto, the bus-like boats that go around the canals. The ticket-taker began shouting at me. I repeated, two tickets, please. He shouted some more. He shouted louder. A crowd gathered. More shouting. I considered taking the subway.

I finally got on the vaporetto. I reached for a handkerchief to wipe the sweat off my face. I looked at my hands. They were completely white.

It was at that moment, finally, that I realized the ticket-taker was shouting, “American idiot, take your hands off the rails — it’s wet paint.”

Well, how was I supposed to know? He was speaking Italian.

Or it could have been Serbo-Croat. I have no idea.

I tried ordering ice cream one time from a vendor in Bulgaria. I tried in Italian. I tried in French. I tried in German. The vendor looked at me like I was speaking a foreign language.

Finally, I pointed to someone holding a cone.

“Ah, ice cream,” the vendor said.

So with my pronounced facility for learning languages, to prepare for a recent trip to Spain I made a point of carefully studying the language there, which I believe is Spanish. I took out DVDs and phrase books from the library. I renewed the DVDs and phrasebooks several times, excellently using my command of English, my native tongue, which after several decades of intense practice I speak almost perfectly except for confusing adverbs and adjectives.

I downloaded “learn Spanish” apps to my phone. I practiced pronouncing the important phrase, “Is there wet paint anywhere in your country?”

None of it helped.

After arrival in Spain, my worst fears were realized: people spoke Spanish. They spoke it all the time, even among themselves. They spoke it, for the most part, as if I understood what they were saying.

They spoke it quickly. They spoke it without subtitles. They spoke it as if they had actually looked at all the DVDs and phrasebooks they had taken out of the library.

Their insistence on using their own language created some problems.

In the Spanish restaurant, the waiter gave us directions back to our hotel. Or, it’s possible, he was telling us his recipe for paella. In the supermarket, the cashier asked if we wanted a bag for the groceries we had bought. It turned out she was asking us if we liked chocolate.

At least she didn’t shout.

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