I have now been ´living la vida loca´here in Madrid for near on three weeks. As you would expect, it´s not been at all difficult to adjust to the long afternoons sipping sangria in a sun-soaked plaza. I´ve simply swapped the umbrella normally resident in my handbag for a pair of sunnies and bullied my bodyclock into increasingly late dinners. Now, I´m happily ordering tapas when English pubs are called last orders, can navigate the city without frequently consulting the map and have sussed out a local fruit and veg market.
However, it hasn´t been quite so easy to immerse myself into the rapid garble that is naturally spoken spanish, and more often than not, I am lost at sea amidst the surrounding Spanish chatter. It seems that briefly revising my A-level notes and watching Sex and the City dubbed into Spanish has left me ill-prepared for day-to-day conversation. My ability seems to vary hugely depending on time of day, amount of sleep and quantity of alcohol consumed. Whereas at times I´m confident with full sentences (albeit littered with incorrect conjugations) at others I find myself having to supplement my shamelessly stilted spanglish with extravagant gestures such that I may as well be playing charades.
Likewise, despite having Radio Nacional de Espana permanently buzzing in the background, my ears stubbornly refuse to digest spoken spanish. I´ve adjusted by trying to read body language - smiling in all the right places, laughing where appropriate and nodding throughout conversations. However, my already short attention span has been magnified by incomprehension and I often find myself pondering over a particular grammar construction or preparing my next sentence mid-conversation. This makes dialogue even more hazardous as it is nigh on impossible to pick up the thread of a story half way through. Only occasionally do I manage to hesitantly mumble a short sentence or question - on what I hope is a related subject.
However, although I seem to spend a lot of time in a British bubble, I´m hugely impatient to be able to seamlessly flick my brain into Spanish mode, and every successful conversation I have with a spaniard triggers a flush of pride and encouragement. I´ve recently started targeting a local café when I can attach a short conversation to every drink ordered. Obviously, success rate varies in almost direct proportion to the number of drinks consumed, but I´m slowly getting to know the spanish crowd there.
I´m going to give myself until Christmas...