November 11, 2008


Jesús is very preoccupied these days. Which we’ve learned to put down to his wrecked housing plans - and marriage hopes too no doubt. But today he seemed even more distracted than usual, rarely finishing sentences or questions, his words tailing off into the ether, seemingly in hot pursuit of his thoughts.

Anyway, during one of his less lucid moments, he asked us if we’d be interested in taking part in an intercambio… At this point, his voice broke off completely as he jumped up and rushed outside with his mobile, vaguely apologizing with flailing arms as he did so.

Immediately the whole class perked up, noticeably one or two of the men who started exchanging sly glances with one another. Whilst they’d recognised the "intercambio" bit, none of them - or us - had caught the rest of it though doubtlessly it was precisely the "intercambio" part that had grabbed their attention.

Now, whilst intercambio on its own means ‘exchange’, what the two men had understood (or hoped) Jesús’s final muttered words to have been was intercambio de parejas or ‘wife swapping’. Little wonder we’d never before seen these two (singles) look so happy or animated. They could hardly contain themselves until Jesús’s return ten minutes later.

He too looked considerably happier, though with Jesús you can never be sure. It could have been something relatively minor like whose turn it was- his or his fiancee’s - to do the shopping this week or something really important like fixing, at long last, their wedding day. Jesús simply doesn’t do self effacement; Jesús does ebullience.

In any event, on his return he put matters right - and the two singles in high dudgeon. Referring to the "intercambio" he’d mentioned earlier, he went on to explain what he’d had in mind. And as soon as he wrote the words on the whiteboard, no one was left in the slightest doubt as to their meaning. Intercambio de conversación. Or face to face conversation with native speakers which is taking place more and more in ‘bilingual Andalucia’ - probably more frequently than wife swapping …

But more on that (bilingualism, that is) in my next post.

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