Saturday, February 12, 2011

You say tomato...

"We'd like to go to the port. Puerto?"

"Puerto?" The taxi driver looked baffled. Clearly this was not a word in his vocabulary. Moreover, it was not a word that any other passenger in the tourist town of Ushuaia had ever used in his cab before.

"Um, yes. Puerto? The port? With the boats?" We tried again, making a hand gesture that hopefully suggested some kind of water vessel.

"..... Ah, Puerto?"

"..... Si."

There were three possible causes for the reoccurring communication bar we were having with our Argentinean taxi drivers. The first was that our pronunciation sucked. While Spanish is a reasonably phonetic language, there are differences in the pronunciation of some letters from English and indeed, differences between European Spanish and Latin America Spanish. This had been our problem the day before, when we had asked to return to our hotel, 'Los Yamanas', whose pronunciation is closer to 'Los Shamanas'.

The second possible cause of error was that we simply couldn't hear the subtler sounds in the locals' speech. Since we had all been brought up as purely English speakers, there would inevitably be tones in foreign languages that would just slide right by us. For instance, while living in Tokyo, I never really managed to differentiate between the Japanese word for 'hospital' (byouin) and 'hair salon' (biyouin) -- potentially unfortunate. It was just about possible that this was the cause of our difficulty in directing our current cabby to the watery destination of our choice.

The third option was that the taxi drivers in Tierra del Fuego were bored of carting around touristing gringos and were just having a laugh.

The following day, we set out to go to the train station.

"The train station, please. Tren?"

"... Tren?"

...... totally option three.

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