A day in Bogotá, Colombia


I photo I took from Bogotá of the Andes.

I photo I took from Bogotá of the Andes.

What do you do if you dial a wrong number in a Spanish-speaking country — and not know how to say “wrong number?”

I know I was MIA on Wednesday and Thursday. I neglected to write blog posts, but I have a good reason for it.

I was doing a story in Bogotá, Colombia. I was there for a full day visiting a flower farm in the foot of the Andes to write a story about shipping flowers by airplane.

People have asked me about my trip, and the first detail that jumps to mind was the immense language barrier.

I have a minor in French and took a year of Spanish in college, a combination that equips me with enough knowledge to have a pretty full idea of what people are saying to me in Spanish. But as for responding, I rely on nods, finger-pointing, and “sí.”

Before I traveled to Bogotá, I didn’t know much about the city. I was unsure of the English language’s penetration. Little did I realize that almost nobody speaks English. I guess the reason is that unlike somewhere such as Costa Rica, Colombia is not a popular tourist destination. Even the hotel staff didn’t speak English.

I traveled with a bilingual guide, so I could get by in most instances, but it was still burdensome.

I dialed a wrong number on the hotel phone and didn’t know how to say “wrong number,” so I eventually became flustered and hung up when the person on the other end couldn’t understand me.

Colombian journalists were also touring the flower farm, but I couldn’t converse with them.

People talking with my guide often asked who I was, and though I could understand them, I couldn’t respond to them.

I’ve never been to a country where I didn’t know the language to a conversational point. It was irritating not being able to speak to almost anyone. It felt stressful that I could understand people (if they didn’t speak too fast) but they couldn’t understand me.

I’ve been trying to teach myself more Spanish anyway because the language is rapidly gaining in popularity, especially in the U.S. Plus, it would be useful for my job since I speak with people from all over the world.

Now I know I better learn Spanish even more quickly.

Have you ever been in a situation where you didn’t know the language of choice? What did you do?


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