Real life in beautiful and ugly Guadalajara.
categories: Spanish ed, culture, society

Mexico City has a Metro.  That’s it up there in the photo.  It’s orange.  A primary mode of endless public transit, it’s an extensive system of surface and underground railways that the glutted little village in the valley just can’t do without….  Guadalajara also proudly showcases a Metro..  though it’s difficult, I imagine even for the optimist, to consider it quite as imperative for the city’s development and survival.  It’s too bad, really.. because this city truly lacks adequate public transit….   

Now I’m going to warn you the reader, whoever you are.  If after reading the following you come away feeling that I, the writer, am attempting to paint Mexico as a degenerate society, entirely separated from rationality and common respect, it would do little good I suppose to try to reassure you otherwise.. or even less to suggest that you read it again more carefully (there’s little doubt that you´ll have done so the first time).   But that aside, if images of depraved violence and lewd femininity just aren’t your sippy cup of.. whatever you drink, perhaps it’s best you skip this post and wait for the next one…

Guadalajara’s Metro is a daily birdcage liner that appeals especially to the city’s sleazier propensities.. although I would dare say that even the most culturally mature cannot help being subtly fascinated by its triumphant brand of foulness.   And true as it may be that no value depreciates so quickly as shock value, Metro nonetheless seeks to astound, arouse and nauseate each and every morning. 

This is not one you want to be caught reading while waiting for a business appointment or job interview in the lobby of a company.. nor at the doctor’s or dentist’s office… certainly not waiting around in the emergency room.  Few women I know here will even admit they know what it is.. and maybe I can believe a couple of them.  But if there was anything one could describe as typical among Tapatia women, it would be their uncanny ability to feign innocence within the proximity of the slightest societal impurities.   These are the same typical Tapatias (thank heavens I know some atypical ones) who pretend to recoil at the mention of even the most innocent of smutty terms, like pussy.. or boobies, but then you go to their apartment and find stacks of Cosmopolitan and the like, all with special features on the 7 hottest methods for exhilarating her G-spot.  Nah… surely they wouldn’t know anything about the Metro…  At any rate, if a man claims he doesn’t know what it is… just run away. 

The truth,  by my own estimation, which a critical peer review has found to be infallible whenever I’m right on, is that Metro sells more non-subscription copies than all of the rest of the local newspapers combined… with exception perhaps to Record, a sports daily.  It’s found next to the other daily newspapers at any convenient store or pharmacy that sells them… also at most of the key high morning traffic intersections  (‘you seen the photo fronting this blog site?)  It’s virtually impossible not to have ever seen it.

Metro is not actually its own entity.  It’s a byproduct of the daily newspaper MURAL.  Compiled basically from the scraps off the editing room floor of its mother company, it’s really quite a clever profit driver.  In fact most of its stories and less graphic photos are carried right over from that newspaper, just with different, flashier headlines.  For example, a MURAL article may be titled something like “Two bodies found along the highway”, while the Metro might read “Leftovers, anyone?  Two overstuffed tamales found tossed about the side of the road.”  But it also adds in many other tender and delectable details not included in MURAL.  For example, there are three to four full pages dedicated exclusively to adult personals.   Also included are sometimes completely nude features on local strippers, models, and high dollar prostitutes.  There’s an advice column on the last page for people with anything from typically stupid problems to more disturbing personal issues you simply could not fathom with the naked mind.  In fact, let’s see how good your Spanish is, and try to read this letter below: 

I’d translate it for you, but I’d then have to drown my keyboard in Clorox and leave it untouched for the next three days.

So it generates profits, meaning that a hell of a lot of people (maybe 2-3% of the population) pick this thing up every day…  and why shouldn’t they (cough ‘we’ cough cough.. snort)?  It’s easily accessible, it’s cheap, it’s sensational, it’s got naked girls in it, not to mention phone numbers of other naked girls, it arouses a special innocence that sometimes provokes one to unconsciously blurt out “Wow.. sucks to be that poor bastard…”, and we suddenly realize that our day isn’t going so badly after all…  

When I was 11 or 12, I remember purchasing my very first subscription.. to anything – Weekly World News – a black and white supermarket check-out rag .  An obvious eye-catcher among the Bic razors, beef jerky and weekly soaps publications (talk about depraved society), it was a glorious and seemingly endless parade featuring the wildest circus stunts of any ordinary man’s imagination.  From a boy’s perspective, it was printed and laid out in a fashion that almost looked ridiculously true, and thus was dangerously corrosive to the psyche of any young human, should he have ever been prone to forget that fire is hot or that gravity is true.  And yet, it was precisely this utter disdain for the child’s intellect that gave it its innocent charm.  You knew that not even the baloney was the real stuff.. but if it was delicious, what did it matter.. it was good for a cheap laugh…

Well, the Metro is not for 12 year-old kids by any means, although any teen or tinier tot could purchase it.. For one, its content, repulsive as you may find it, is real everyday sleaze and ugliness, and nothing to laugh about.  But I think for the adult it none the less brings back in a way that savory phony baloney flavor that hooked our attention as juveniles… and with a couple of fat, melted slices of yellow extra cheesy journalism slathered on, it’s sometimes difficult to resist the temptation.



category: Spanish ed

Mexico’s a free country and you can speak any language here you want.  Living here though, especially with a goal to learn Spanish, and not interacting much if at all with the people here.. is just plain weird.  It becomes difficult to imagine what happiness must be like when you’re wandering around on mute through an intercultural twilight zone that grinds your Spanish speaking fantasies into dirt.  Inspiring, eh?  But it’s so unnecessary that it be that way.  Below are some facts of life that any young person or adult should consider when setting out for the first time to beat down the Spanish language barrier.

It’s a tool, a tool for communication.  It’s not an art.  It’s not a talent that only some possess.  Don’t forget that virtually every person on the planet that can open their mouth and has a tongue has mastered at least one language.   But communication has to be the focus, rather than passing exams.  If you have no need or desire to associate with with others who only speak Spanish, well, then what’s the point?  But that brings us to the next detail…

Desire and necessity.  Without either one or the other, just give up.  Find something better to do.  Seriously.  Possessing only one or the other is better than nothing, but you’ll advance very slowly.  Your desire will quickly burn out if you fail to discover or create a necessity.  On the other hand, learning a foreign language is just dreadful for those who face it simply because they have to.  When you have both, nothing short of a bus explosion, or any other trauma that makes you die, can stop you.

Be proactive.  You want to learn a language, so you say.  It’s entirely your problem.  People can try to help you, but they won’t succeed unless you can figure out how badly you want to do it.  Find a friend or teacher you think is really hot, and you want to impress.  Listen to Spanish radio.  Again, if you’re taking a class, study the material ahead of time.  This way any unclear concepts can be ironed out during class, making it much more worth your time and money.  It is you who wants to do this, right?

Don’t count on school.  The environment, the teachers, the books and the instructional videos are not going to do your learning for you.  That certainly is not what should be promised for the money you pay.  Your learning, if you really do advance, will be around 80% personal experience and 20% school.  Don’t complain about the school you wasted your money with if you haven’t given an ounce of personal effort outside of class.  The less time you spend experimenting on your own, the less valuable your school time will be.  That said, when you have an investment in Spanish classes, exploit your teacher.  That’s what they’re there for.  If you don’t understand it, say so.. and don’t leave the classroom until you get a clear answer.  If your teacher can’t clearly explain it, get someone else who can.

When studying Spanish grammar, go back and relearn your English grammar first.  Get back in touch with those dismal rules you learned in the 3rd grade.  These are easy to learn on your own because most of you already speak and write well in your own language; it’s a matter of placing the names with the faces.  Furthermore, the logic of Spanish grammar is very similar to that of English.  If you have one or several grammar books you hardly need a teacher to learn most grammar concepts.  Practice it a bit, put it to work in your own time, and you’ll save a lot of wasted time and money taking classes.

Never allow yourself to feel intimidated.  First, as already mentioned, if 600,000,000 other people can speak it, you can too.  People tend to feel embarrassed about not looking smart enough to articulate simple things, or in business not appearing professional.  I would tell the gringo or the Canadian the same that I tell the Mexicans down here when embarrassed about their English –  “If an American comes down here, expecting to find people to communicate with him in his own language, only to scoff at or become impatient with your English when you try to oblige, hold your head up, stand firm, and never forget that your talking to someone who’s come to your country, and hasn’t lifted a finger to learn your language… you’ve got not one damn thing to be ashamed of.”

Never convince yourself you’re too old… unless by your age you still haven’t mastered simple problem solving skills or household appliances.  Seeing some kid that’s only eight years old already speaking three or four languages tends to make us feel kind of retarded and disabled in comparison.  People like to point out that a young child’s neurons are much more flexible and agile than those of adults, and that’s how they learn so quickly.  True enough.  But they don’t have the capability from life experience to quickly process the information like adults do.  The adult can get out a grammar book  for example (in his or her own language), and thoroughly comprehend in two days what a child still hasn’t been able to fully grasp by the age of ten.   

If you come to Mexico, make Mexican friends… that don’t speak English.  Even if you’re still back in the states, find latino immigrants from wherever, and develop some sort of context upon which to hang out with them as frequently as possible.  There’s no need to go extreme and make that your #1 criteria for friendship, but you won’t learn a damn thing hangin’ out with the so called expats and watchin’ TNN all day.  Osmosis doesn’t happen.

Read, write, and talk with people in Spanish… If there’s no one around, talk to yourself.  Don’t read something simply because it’s in Spanish.  Find a topic that truly interests you, read someone else’s opinion on it, and decide if you agree.  Write down your own opinion about the issue.  Take what you wrote to a teacher who can explain your errors.. It’ll be one of the most valuable classes you ever take, because they’re your words and they’re words you want to tell people… and you want them to understand you.  There’s a hell of a lot more motivation in that than in sitting with 20 other students in a classroom repeating vowel sounds, time slipping away and dollars evaporating.

Listen to the pronunciation, stress, intonation and rhythm of others, imitate them, and listen to yourself.. then the others again… then yourself again..  In communication, pronunciation and fluency isn’t as important as getting the point across, but there comes a time when the exaggerated foreigner accent needs to significantly improve.  Few people are able to continue this way forever without eventually wearing out their cute lovable greengow image.  In fact, from the very first words you learn, make it a habit to consider how silly your foreigner greengow accent sounds, and do what you can to get rid of it. 

Everyone is different, each with his or her own circumstances.  Perhaps the advice above is not for everyone.  I’ve found these points however to be quite valuable in my own struggles to learn a new language.  Best of luck to you in your personal pursuits.