Dispatches From Mexico City: Thinking Bigger (In Spanish)
The garbageman just came to my window. “Donde esta tu basura?” He wanted to know where my garbage was.
I was sitting at my desk, waiting for a ChannelE2E interview to start, when he knocked. The interview was happening two minutes later, so I had to brush him off with my bad Spanish. And my Spanish is definitely bad. But that’s a point I’ll come back to.
The whole interaction reaffirmed why I love living in Mexico. There’s more familiarity here than I’m used to. I never even saw our garbage man in Toronto.
Moving In (And Around) Mexico
It also confirmed for me that we made the right decision in moving — from one Mexico City location to another. Over the weekend my girlfriend and I packed up our belongings and moved into a new apartment. It’s smaller than our old place but much quieter. That’s helpful when you’re a ChannelE2E writer who works from home.
I’ve moved a lot in my life and as a result, I’ve developed preferences and habits around the act. For instance, I’m a last-minute packer. A day, maybe two, before moving day is when I like to start putting things in boxes.
Who wants to sit in a room surrounded by boxes full of stuff you aren’t allowed to use? It’s all the expectation of Christmas morning without the payoff.
I also prefer to move at night == after the evening rush hour has ended. There’s less traffic, less hassle, and you can do it after work. That’s illegal here, though. Or so my friend warned me. If the cops see you they might think you’re robbing a house. And you don’t want to get on the wrong side of the Mexican police.
So my girlfriend and I were a little out of my comfort zone on this move. We packed early because we wanted to be ready in case we encountered some unforeseen trouble. We moved during the afternoon, in rush hour, because we had to. And all this in a city we’re still trying to get to know and in a language, we’re still learning.
The Joys Of Language
That’s a roundabout way of getting to my point: Learning a second language is great. And yes, I’ll eventually tie this back to ChannelE2E.
In the Canadian school system, you have to take French class until grade 9. After that it’s optional. I was convinced from a young age that I did not have an aptitude for languages. I was a kid who could write and play music, but I would never be able to order a proper poutine in Quebec City. No way.
Moving here taught me that was wrong.
I’m not sure what to blame: bad teachers, the education system, or (more likely) my own stubbornness. But I was completely capable of learning another language. If I can do it at 33 I could definitely have done it at 14.
In my blog last week, I mentioned that I knew zero Spanish when we moved here. That isn’t exactly true. I knew the word “hola” and a swear word that I won’t mention here. But that was it. Now I can construct sentences in multiple tenses, order food, and ask for directions. I can also make very basic jokes to the crowd when my band gets on stage.
I’ve realized something cool about learning another language: It changes how you think. It makes you think bigger. There are nuances in other languages that don’t exist in English. And the reverse is also true. There are two very obvious examples I can share:
- In English, we say “I am 33 years old”; In Spanish, we say “I have 33 years.”
- In English, we say “I am hungry”; In Spanish, we say “I have hunger.”
These are subtly different ways to look at the world. In English, we often define ourselves by things like age. In Spanish, those things are incidental to our character. Neither is better or worse but together they create a bigger picture.
Um, What Does This Have to Do With ChannelE2E?
In my mind, this plays into what I cover here at ChannelE2E. When I talk to intelligent people — people much smarter than me — there’s one thing I notice they all have in common: They think differently. They think bigger.
Now, I’m not saying it’s because they’re all polyglots who can order a mineral water in any country. But someone who understands total business continuity, or someone who navigates the startup sphere as an entrepreneur – those people understand a different language.
I hope one day you’ll come back to this little column and need Google translate to understand it. That’s because my eventual goal is to write coherently and thoughtfully in Spanish. At least for now, “yo sé dónde está mi basura.”