Bilingual Breakdown
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Bilingual Breakdown – how pizza broke me


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When you move to a new country adapting can be hard at the beginning, especially if you don’t speak the language. You work hard to learn the language because you want to fit in but you struggle doing every day mundane things like going to the hairdresser or asking for your favourite cheese at the supermarket. Finally, you get to the point where you think you’re ‘pretty good’. You start hanging out with locals instead of always calling your expat buddies and you even manage to not have an emotional breakdown at the social security office.

You think you are dominating your life but then something happens and your world comes tumbling down. (OK, I may be exaggerating, but I did feel ridiculously low for a while when it happened to me)

For me, my world came crashing down over a pizza. Yes, an innocent pizza.

I had been living in Spain for nearly 8 years. The first 5 or 6 years were full of mini-struggles and self-doubt. Come on expats! We’ve all been there. The night before an important appointment you start thinking about all the possible ways the conversation could go. You ask your boyfriend how to say bla bla bla, you think and rethink each possibility.

But then you start to feel more confident. You stop over thinking everything and you just let it happen and deal with each situation without visualising everything. You get comfortable.

Maybe you’ve reached a level in the language where you feel able to ‘hold your own’ or maybe you are getting older and you just don’t care as much anymore (in my unwillingness to recognise that I’m aging I’m going with the first option).

You know more than you think you know, just as you know less than you want to know

– Oscar Wilde

One of the hardest parts of using a second language is making telephone calls. My husband and I both arrived home late from work and we were greeted by a nearly empty fridge. He jumped in the shower and shouted that he felt like pizza so I grabbed the phone and dialled for home delivery. A friendly sounding lady with a sing-songy voice, the type that sounds like she has said the same phrase at least 100 times that day. Beyond ‘hola’ I didn’t catch a word. I asked her to kindly repeat herself which she happily did in exactly the same tone and speed, to which I kindly asked her to repeat herself – again. No luck. Same words, same tone, same speed. I decided to basically ignore her and asked for a medium pizza, asked her for a ‘recomendación’ and told her my address. I understood when she said ‘telefono’ and gave her my telephone number. She replied with a big long speel and hung up.

I was left with the ominous dial tone left ringing in my ear.

My husband came in and asked me…..

What did you order? Me: not really sure

How many did you get? Me: not sure

How much was it? Me: shrug of the shoulders

Did they say how long it would take? Me: no response

Queue breakdown. A stupid pizza broke me. I felt like a complete failure over something that should be so insignificant in one’s life.


Was I overreacting? Probably, but it made me feel so low.

And my boyfriend’s response? ‘Don’t be ridiculous!’. He was right though.

Living in a country that speaks another language is tough. You constantly feel detached until one day you don’t. But there will always be moments that remind you that it’s not your native language and you have to work at it constantly.

P.S. A medium peperoni pizza arrived piping hot in about 35 minutes and it was gooooood.

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