I’ve always loved the song "Spanish is a Loving Tongue" by Emmylou Harris: "Spanish is a loving tongue, soft as music, bright as sun. Once knew a boy who taught me some: ‘Te amoro mi Corazon.’"
Nobody is more cognizant of how hard it is to learn a foreign language than I am. I’ve studied French off and on for YEARS, and can speak it pretty well when I get into the "French" part of my brain–in Paris, for instance–but I can’t retrieve it at a moment off the top of my head. I WAS glad, however, to be able to help a French speaking couple I overheard while walking down the sidewalk in our beachside town. "Quand la mer?" I heard one of them say. I helpfully pointed toward the ocean and said, "La Bas" (over there).
But I think all my studies have been a waste of time, because French movies have subtitles and the French all speak English. In fact, when you’re an English-speaker in Paris, they all want to practice their English on YOU. Notwithstanding this, the French definitely feel that French culture is superior to all others, along with the French language, and they are miffed at the fact that English has become the world’s lingua franca (which French used to be).
I have thus learned the secret of getting along with them: If you don’t speak any French, get a guidebook with some French phrases in it and study it on the plane on the way over. After you land, try out these newly-learned phrases on people in stores, at your hotel, etc. and they will become so frustrated at your mispronunciations and malapropisms that they will speak English back to you!
Spanish is the language for Americans to learn today. When we lived in Texas, I studied it and can speak and understand it at an elementary-school level. These days, you’re often surrounded by Spanish-speakers and too many of them assume they can chatter away with impunity, since none of the nearby Anglos can understand them. I’ve heard lewd remarks in the Farmer’s Market when I wore a tight tee shirt with horizontal stripes on it and I overheard a couple of female TSA workers at the LAX airport in an hilarious conversation. When a VERY good-looking man walked through the metal detector, the eyes of one of them were practically popping out of her head, but the other one said dismissively, "Pero, es mujer," which I translate as "But, he is a woman" (meaning, I assume, that he was a gay guy, so she’d better not get her hopes up).
In San Antonio, the Anglos are the ones who really run the town, but there are plenty of Mexican-American voters, so no one can be elected mayor who does not have a Spanish surname. However, by the time someone whose ancestors came from Mexico has made it to the point where he (or she) has the clout and money to run for office, he has often forgotten his Spanish. One mayor was actually caught on camera sneaking out of a high school night class in Spanish!
The current mayor, Julian Castro, has a Spanish surname, but he has a special problem that sometimes makes people mad there: He has an identical twin who sometimes stands in for him and ceremonies such as ribbon cuttings, etc. In the past, European royalty all had stand-ins of this type for tiresome tasks, and Saddam Hussein, for instance, had many doppelgangers (probably so they would take an assassin’s bullet instead of him). But it’s harder to get away with this sort of thing in the age of TV News close-ups–in Castro’s case, the camera zooms in on his wedding ring (he’s married but his brother isn’t).
I really miss Texas and I try keep up with the gossip there. Los Angeles is too big to pass gossip around in and besides, all everybody talks about are movie stars and most of us don’t KNOW any of these people. So it’s nice to go back home and see photos of people you’ve actually MET in the local paper, even if what’s being written about isn’t really too important, in the larger scheme of things.