Wednesday, December 8 2021 - 11:26 PM
man giving woman driving lessons
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The Quickest Spanish Lesson

As I stood in front of Jessica’s apartment, I thought about the events leading up to this moment.

It was a Friday afternoon, and I was waiting for Jessica outside of the math department where her last class of the day occurred. We were going on our second date that day. Things had started slowly between us. First, we traded Snapchat information, then we started talking in the drama group we both attended, then we connected at Bible camp, and then I had gotten up the courage to ask her out on our first date. The date went well, although I did stall my feelings due to nerves.

That had happened one week ago. The sound of a door opening brought me back to the present. I spotted her coming out of class, and I knew that she was the most beautiful thing in the universe. I waved. She came over, and we talked as we walked to my car.

The date went well enough. We went to a local place called Bricks and Birch and shared a butternut ricotta pizza. Afterward, I drove her home. We awkwardly stood by my car as I mustered up the courage to tell her that I wanted to date her. It took time, but I got the words out, and surprisingly, she wanted to date me too!

I smiled like a dork. I felt like I had aced my SAT, gone to my favorite amusement park, and won the lottery all at once! Immediately another thought hit me, bringing with it some fear.

“We should probably ask your parents for permission, huh?” I said.

“Yea,” she said with a nervous smile.

A Simple Plan

Jessica and I came up with a simple plan. We would meet her parents after church, and I would ask for their permission then. That night I did not sleep very well as I continually rehearsed what I would say to her parents in Spanish. The next morning ended up being one of those times when nothing went right. I woke up late and had to skip breakfast, and then I couldn’t pick out what to wear. I finally picked out a suit and tie and promptly forgot how to knot a tie. Ten minutes later than intended, I got in my car and drove like an action movie hero.

After all that, Jessica’s parents left to go to lunch before I could speak with them. After about five minutes of conversing, during which I tapped my foot like a musician desperately trying to keep time, we decided that Jessica would join her parents at lunch. They would text me when they arrived home, and I would come over and talk to them then.

Oh great, I thought. Now I’m in an unfamiliar environment too.

It was not a fun drive home. I had finally felt like I had steeled my resolve, so I put away the outfit I had picked out and put on a more casual one. I was sitting there, wondering if my outfit looked decent. Suddenly I felt like a volleyball player who had taken a nasty strike to the face (as a volleyball player, I knew what that felt like). Jessica’s parents were Peruvian, and though they spoke English, they primarily spoke Spanish.

Jessica and I had already discussed this, of course, and she had assured me that asking in English would be fine. I only speak English, but somehow asking in Spanish seemed right. I wrote a speech out in English, and then, in the fastest Spanish lesson on record using Google Translate and my mother (who grew up as a missionary kid in Puerto Rico) as teachers, I translated it into Spanish. Then I printed out the translated speech and rehearsed it out loud to my mom. After about a half-hour of this, I heard a lightsaber ignite and checked my phone. It was Jessica telling me to head over. So I folded up my speech, pocketed it, got in my car, and started driving.

As I stood in front of Jessica’s apartment, thinking about the events that had led to this moment, I took a shaky breath and knocked on the door. As the front door opened, her father beckoned me in. Jessica and I sat on a couch opposite her parents. I took a deep breath, took out my paper, and began to read. I shook a lot, but I got through it. When I finished reading, I looked up. Jessica gazed at me slightly teary-eyed, and I saw her mom wipe away some tears too. Then her dad looked at me and said, “I think it’s ok.”

It’s been almost five years since I asked Jessica’s parents if we could date. All these years later, I still frequently think about how impactful the simple act of choosing to meet people halfway can be. Our world likes to draw attention to our differences and use these differences to justify discrimination and violence against people who differ from us. Particularly, what relates to my experience is America’s assumption that everyone should know and speak English, that English is the only way in which people who live here should communicate.

Jessica’s parents spoke English, and I easily could have asked for permission to date Jessica in English, but I instead chose to put a little time and effort into asking them in Spanish. This wasn’t very hard or time-consuming, yet I think it made a huge difference to them. Hopefully, they still appreciate and remember that I learned Spanish for them even though now I am no longer dating their daughter. By taking simple steps to meet people halfway, we leave a lasting impact and begin to shift the focus from our differences to our similarities. Isn’t this a great way to spread love and not hate throughout our society and beyond? I like to think so.

If you liked this, you might also like A New Language | Meet People Halfway 

Nicholas Ault writes from Southern California.

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About Nicholas Ault

Nicholas Ault

writes from Southern California.

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