It was all rehearsal until now.
“¿Pollo o verduras?” asked the Chilean flight attendant. Chicken or vegetables?
“Verduras,” I said, realizing she could peg me as a foreigner as soon as I failed to roll my Rs. The flight attendant pushed the cart onward, leaving me with veggie lasagna and the curious feeling that my flight to Santiago de Chile was a pre-show soundcheck.
Resting my head against a rolled-up sweater, I pictured my Broca area (i.e. the part of the brain linked to most speech production) as a diva clambering up onto stage and tapping the microphone: “Testing, testing… uno dos, uno dos. Why does my Spanish sound so weird? Can I get more enunciation in the monitors? And bring down the self-doubt just a tad. How long until we actually start? I’ll be backstage, rolling my Rs. Verduras. Verrrduras.”
An imaginary crowd roared from beyond the windowpane as I leaned back in my seat. Like most students of the Spanish language, I had filled in grammar workbooks, reread boring novelas, and sang along to Shakira for years, but recalling these classroom exercises did little to calm my pre-show jitters. I knew the flight attendant—my audience of one—would soon be replaced by a city of over five million Spanish speakers who would surely notice each missed beat, off note, and improvised lyric of my Spanish-language debut.
It is said that people are not conscious of which words will come out of their mouths until they say them out loud. Trust me, that is bull! (At least sometimes.) As I stumbled through a conversation about the customs declaration form with the Chilean beside me, I was painfully aware of every single verb misconjugated and adjective invented. It was as if the overhead cabin LED was a spotlight following my every move and my co-passenger a critic hanging on my every word before the show even started.
At last I heard my cue: “Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to Santiago International Airport.” Plane down, curtain up.
Dragging my carry-on down the aisle, I gave my Broca area-diva one final piece of advice: “Don’t be the kid who runs offstage head in heads after hitting F instead of G during their first-ever piano recital. The show must go on.”
I cleared my throat and looked straight at the flight attendant. “Grrrrracias.”
Not a bad start! Though I tripped while stepping onto the jet bridge. Maybe next time I’ll break a leg.
Daniel Bergerson, originally from Orono, is a junior at Columbia University in New York. He is currently studying history, writing children’s stories and traveling throughout Chile — all in preparation to teach social studies in the Twin Cities. Daniel is also an editor at Young Teachers Collective.