In some situations, one language works better than others. For example, there is no perfect translation in Spanish for the word “awkward.” We can say “uncomfortable” (incómodo) or “clumsy” (torpe), but there’s no catch-all word that so perfectly embodies those people and situations that are, well, awkward. However, while English triumphs in some cases, it is inferior in others: words such as schadenfreude (German for the act of taking pleasure in someone else’s pain) have no worthwhile English equivalent .
Narrowing it down to just Spanish v. English, more often than not, I find that Spanish does a better job at conveying many emotions and concepts. The language is replete with sayings (some useful, like “Hasta el 40 de mayo, no te quites el sayo,” which tells you that the weather doesn’t really warm up until “May 40th”, and others not so useful, like “con esto y un bizcocho, hasta mañana a las ocho” which literally means “with this and some cake, until tomorrow at 8:00” and figuratively means “yeah, ok, moving on…”), exclamations (a common expression of anger/frustration is “me cago en…” or “I shit in/on…” followed by anything from la leche [milk] to Dios [God] to tus muertos [your dead relatives]), diminutives (why say chica when you can say chiquilla [in Andalucía], fácil when you can say facilito, or sol when you can say solecito?), and words that I just wish we had in English.
In Spanish, sobremesa is the time spent sitting and chatting at the table after a meal. Duende is the possession of a certain spirit, passion and/or talent displayed during a performance, often flamenco. Aprovechar is a more word-economy-friendly way of saying “to take advantage of.” Enchufe (literally: plug) is when you get a job because of who you know, not what you know. Tener ganas de (to be looking forward to something or to want to do something), and tener/coger cariño a (to feel affection, romantic or otherwise, toward someone) work better for me in Spanish, while estar nervioso drives me crazy, because it can mean you feel anxious, nervous, excited, restless or stressed…too many meanings for one word if you ask me.
Another one of these great Spanish words is papeleo, coming from the word papel, meaning paper. Papeleo can mean paperwork, but it has a distinctively negative connotation, as if to mean “that obnoxious pain-in-the-ass government bureaucracy red tape paperwork that’s making me want to jump off of a cliff.” And that is just what I’ve had to deal with as I work through the process of renewing my foreigner’s residency card (oh, did I forget to mention? I’m staying here in Madrid for a second year!). I spared you the details when I applied for my visa last summer and the original residency card in the fall, and I’ll spare you again this time around. Instead, here’s a recap: after waiting for months for various documents from my school and the Ministry of Education, I finally have everything I need to drop off my application (nine forms/documents carefully filled out and photocopied in duplicate, plus one fee paid at the bank); then, with a stamped form showing that my renewal application process has been started, I must pay another fee and then go to a different office to request an authorization to leave and return to Spain while my application is still being processed, and then when I return in the fall I may or may not receive an appointment to go in for fingerprinting and I may or may not ever actually receive a new tangible residency card and I may or may not end up with a mere “note” on my name in “the system” saying I’m here legally.
Lost? You’re not alone. Read that whole sentence in one breath? Me neither. But somehow, I haven’t been deported yet and I have faith I won’t be in the future. Somehow, these things work out. For now, this: