I know I am going to catch it for this one, but it’s so funny I just can’t resist. They say that you know you’ve arrived at fluency when you start dreaming in a language. I don’t have any delusions about getting to that level in these three months, but if I work really hard, I might just be able to flirt. Now before we get into any commentary on my flirting abilities [or lack thereof] in general, let me explain.
I’ve never really thought about it before, but flirting is a pretty advanced linguistic skill. Playful verbal banter involves a well-developed vocabulary, a grasp of the subtle differentiations between synonyms, the ability to use and understand double entendre, and above all, speed in both comprehension and response.
The other night, I had started walking toward the parador [the little shop run by the school that’s out on the main road, about 10 minutes away] solo pasar tiempo. I said hello, well “mba-e-che-pa” actually, to a couple of men standing outside the hotel as I passed. Instead of replying “i-ponrah” as I expected, they chuckled and answered, “ne-ponrah.”
This confused me.
From the very little the students had managed to teach me of Guarani [and through another somewhat embarrassing conversation] I had learned that while “i-ponrah” was roughly equivalent to “todo bien” [it’s all good], and “che” was “yo” [I], “che-ponrah” did not mean “estoy bien” [I’m well]. Instead, applying the pronouns “che” [I] and “de” or “ne” [you] changed the meaning of the adjective from “bien” [good, well] to “lindo/a” [beautiful].
I stood there and processed this complicated little idiomatic web [I’m sure looking quite perplexed], weighing the possibilities that I had heard wrong, that there might be another meaning, that the students could have been teasing me, etc. etc. finally concluded that I was at least 60% certain I was being flirted with, and replied “Gracias.”
That did it. They laughed, invited me inside, and I spent the next couple of hours as the rather awkward center of attention for an entire team of Paraguayan futbol players. The scene was definitely comical. At my level, even polite conversation is a bit tedious, which makes banter a bit of a joke. I’d undertand, more or less, what they were saying, but my clever comebacks just lost their punch when I had to fumble through the dictionary for every other word.
On the other hand, there are definitely ways to flirt that require no facility with language whatsoever, and no translation. I was amazed how often I recognized a tone of voice, a facial expression, a playful shove or squeeze—though all sorts of physical affection are much more pronounced here. And of course the guy leaning over to kiss/bite my neck in the middle of what I thought was a casual conversation was pretty clear! [“nice to meet you too.” ☺]
So, while dreaming in Spanish is probably a good bit off for me, I fully intend to work on my flirting. I’ll let you know how it goes.