One evening, my mom and I popped into a shop in Barcelona to grab some snacks before heading back to our hostel. We had been in Europe for a few weeks having travelled around France and walked the Camino de Santiago in Spain before taking the train to Barcelona. Barcelona is such a cool city, with amazing history and architecture, and a unique culture compared to the rest of the country. While we had both studied French and could at least understand enough to have a light conversation in France. The only experience we had with Spanish was trying to order food and greeting others while walking the Camino. (“Buen Camino!” Is the universal greeting all pilgrims use, regardless of their nationality.) However, we had absolutely no knowledge of the native Catalan.
As we were checking out at the convenience store, we were greeted by an older woman sitting behind the counter. Then a young man came up to help us. We attempt to chat a bit; he asks if we speak Spanish; we ask if he speaks English, both were a negative. On a whim, my mom asks, “Parlez-vous français?” He responds, “oui!” and from there we were able to strike up a conversation telling him about our travels, and he relays them to the woman. We learn she is his mother, and she only speaks Catalan. So, she tells her son something, he translates it to French for us, and we have to figure it out from there. My mom was better at speaking French, so she helped me communicate with them. We discussed Barcelona and the recent protests that were taking place there. It is a long history of Catalonian’s wanting to be independent from the rest of Spain, so it was interesting to hear the perspective from both mother and son on the matter.
For whatever reason, that encounter has stuck with me for a long time. It was such a cool experience to have this conversation and connection with someone, thanks to language. It so often divides us, but when you put in the effort to make a connection, something wonderful can come from it.