Melding worlds

Familiar faces experience a taste of life abroad

My fingers eagerly twitched as my American father hesitated toward the hotel concierge counter.

"Hola!" he proudly powered out. Maybe he actually did practice his Spanish like he said he did.

"Buen día, señor. Su nombre, por favor?"

"Nombre? Ahh, sí." He pointed at some number on the reservation confirmation he had printed out. The concierge gave him a confused stare. He then realized his mistake and gave his name, in a manner far less resounding than his confident “hola” just moments before.

And then it happened.

"Habla inglés?" my father asked.

Perhaps it was the nine-hour flight. Perhaps the concierge was hard to understand. Perhaps my father was hoping I would do the talking. Perhaps it was all of the above. The fact of the matter is that my father didn't have the Spanish in him to check in.

It's weird to see the two people who have (or at least seemed to have) known everything and who have always taken control of their own matters suddenly need me more than ever to help them out. My parents only fluently speak English, and the fact that less than ten percent of the population of Chile can hold a conversation in English is a great challenge. Heck, I only came to Chile after more than seven years of Spanish classes and I’m still struggling to understand my host father.

A few days after the fateful check-in (which I am definitely dramatizing), I had the pleasure of introducing my two families to each other over a dinner prepared by my host mother. Acting as the translator along with my sister, the language barrier crumbled and gave way to a unique opportunity to share culture, good food and family ties. Having two families has made me feel more loved and appreciated than ever before in my life. The Spanish language may divide my family, but given the fact that (thanks to the insistence of my host father) I have danced cumbia with every member of my family, it's safe to say words mean very little in the grand scheme of things.

That isn’t to say that there were a few awkward moments nestled in the experience. My mother has very little knowledge of Spanish, and at one point my host mom was rattling off her machine gun Spanish directly toward my mother. She had the typical “gringo face,” which all people attempting to understand and respond to Spanish have used. I think I may have perfected it myself. The “gringo face” is simply a blank stare and a smile, often coupled with a nod of the head and often a “sí,” even if the Spanish directed towards you is not a yes or no question. Luckily, my familiarity with this so-called “gringo face” allowed me to step in and translate, despite being situated across the table from them.

I'm very thankful for my parents' visit. They're willing to run into the language barrier head first and willing to put forth the lucas (thousands of Chilean pesos) to be able to even see me 5,000 miles away from home. They are bearing with the discomfort of culture shock to feel the comfortable embraces of their children. If that's not love, I don't know what is. Though I have to wait two more months to see them again, their visit also indicated the love and care I have with my Chilean family. I am loved in two continents, and it is one of the best feelings in the world.

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