In Spain: Asking for Directions in Dutchlish

Sevilla and its winding streets.
© Stephanie Glaser

Asking for directions in a large city in a foreign country is stressful. Usually, you are lost in the first place, and if the country’s citizens, understandably, don’t speak English, much effort is involved in the inquiry. Additionally, the streets of many older cities in the world were not developed with the grid system in mind.

This is the case, certainly, in Sevilla, Spain. The streets wind around and often, it seems, their names change randomly.

My mom, Judy, and I visited Sevilla during Semana Santa, Holy Week — the biggest religious celebration of the year. It was challenging to navigate since the city was so crowded. Also, impressive religious processions with large wooden floats, containing religious relics, would flood many of the streets. Consequently, you’d have to go down another street, which may have another procession coming through.

The religious relics are brought through the streets.
© Stephanie Glaser

Finally, when finding a street with no parade, you would often be thoroughly disoriented and lost. Plus, it was a bit unsettling seeing the religious brotherhoods marching silently through the streets. In their robes and pointy hats, they looked quiet a bit like the KKK invading the town.

During the height of the Semana Santa processions, Judy and I wandered around Sevilla, and we became totally turned around. Our hotel was close to the grand Sevilla Cathedral, so we, at least, had a prominent landmark to work with. I began using my high school Spanish to try to get us back.

One of many processions.
© Stephanie Glaser

This was problematic for several reasons. First, we were lost at night and many of the people in the streets were celebrating in full force. It was definitely hard to compete with the noise. Then, because we were in Andalusia, it was hard to understand the Spanish dialect because often the ends of sentences sounded cut off or slurred together.

At one point, I sort of understand a helpful reveler. Following his directions, we arrived at a cathedral, but not the one that we wanted. Of course, this was Sevilla and there were several cathedrals. My mom finally suggested I ask for the BIG cathedral. El catedral grande.

One other factor impeded the process of asking for directions. During this trip, I was actually on spring break from my study abroad program in the Netherlands. I had been learning Dutch, and therefore, while in Sevilla, I began interspersing Dutch with Spanish. “Perdon, señor, alstublief, ik nodig direcciónes, por favor. Waar es de grande catedral? Basically, this Dutchlish question translates to: “Excuse me sir, I need directions, please. Where is the big cathedral?”

The ultimate moment in asking for directions, however, was when we were driving and became completely lost in the older section of Sevilla.  I got out for, probably, the fifth time within an hour to ask for directions. I approached two older gentlemen, who sat on a city bench and seemed not to be busy, and then I asked them how we could get to our hotel.

Judy driving in Sevilla.

After getting the nod to sit down, I pulled out a map to show to the older man I sat next to. In halting Spanish, it took some time to ask him how to get to a particular street.

I looked at the man and waited for a response. He looked at me like a grandfather might look at his granddaughter right before she is about to be married. 

The silence was becoming a bit awkward when finally, the other older man motioned to his ear and then shook his head. “Él no puede oír,” he said while chuckling.

His friend was deaf. The deaf man still looked at me, smiling while his friend slapped his knee laughing. I managed to laugh since it was pretty funny albeit slightly annoying since my brain hurt from trying not to use any Dutch. Eventually, the deaf man began laughing, too. Ultimately, I was pretty satisfied because I figured at least his non response was because he couldn’t hear and not because he couldn’t understand my Spanish.

Asking a deaf man for directions.

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