MadridMan: Understanding Spanish in noisy bars

MadridMan: Understanding Spanish in noisy bars

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MadridMan shares his frustration with attempting to socialise in a foreign language in bustling Spanish bars.

This article is reprinted with permission of MadridMan.

Last night I went along with a good Spanish friend to meet a group of her friends - all Spanish too. We met at 9:30 p.m. and went to La Latina neighborhood in Madrid, an area very well known for its bars and active nightlife. This being summer, I imagine there were fewer people in the streets - or maybe it was just too early to see them.

We went to a Basque bar, one of the typical, long, narrow bars in Old Madrid where the bar is on one side and a space of maybe one meter separates it from the far wall.

It's in this one-meter space where everyone stands. If you have to go to the bathroom in the back you literally have to swim through the beerglass-holding mass, trying to make your presence known without spilling their drinks.

Upon arrival I did pretty well as the bar was still only about half full and the music wasn't too loud. I did okay understanding people's Spanish in our little circle of maybe seven or eight people. But as the minutes ticked by the bar became full, the music became loud, and I could understand less and less of the conversation. I could barely understand the person standing right next to me when she turned her head towards me.


Instead of sticking my ear in front of each face as they spoke, I stood back in my space in the circle and just nodded and smiled politely, watching people's expressions, smiles, and laughs. But the Spanish words coming from their mouths were washed out in the environment. I was lost.

Time went on and I discretely looked at my watch, knowing my last bus home left at 11:30 p.m. and was about a 15 to 20 minute walk away from this bar. And since the metro stations near my house are closed for renovation, I would've had to get a taxi and pay the EUR 10 to 12.

Fortunately for me by 10:30 p.m. we went into the back part of the bar where there was more space and a little quieter, and I could finally understand just a little more of the conversation. Really, I felt like a fish out of water. Surely the Spaniards were wondering why I wasn't talking, maybe they just assumed I didn't speak Spanish and took pity on me by not asking me any questions. My Spanish friend turned to me from time to time to ask me if I understood what was just said, but as the honest person I am, I could only say that no I couldn't hear anything.

By 11:00 p.m. a friend of the group, a guy from New York arrived and I could finally speak with someone in a language I could understand. He was nice enough, but since I had to leave in 15 minutes I didn't get to know him very well. At 11:15 p.m. I said my goodbyes and the growing group of Spaniards wished me well, were pleased to meet me, et cetera. Some gave me looks like, "You're going already? It's early!"

It was a small shame I did leave so early because just 10 minutes before seven additions to the group arrived, three or four of which were very attractive, young Spanish women.


Oh well, it doesn't matter. I wouldn't have been able to talk to them any better than I would have with the rest of the group. Sure, they would've understood my Spanish, but I never would've heard them and it gets annoying to constantly ask for a repeat of what was just said - a repeat directly in my ear.

Speaking in a like language, in your language in these noisy situations, is easy, or easier. Try to do so in a language which is not your own, trying to hear every word so that you can string together a sentence and get some meaning from the statement, is very very difficult to do.

If only we could've been seated outside at a terrace bar I'm sure it would've been quieter and, at the very least, I could've spoken to the person directly to my left or right, and I could've probably, heard and understood them.

MadridMan / Expatica

The writer is from America and has lived in Madrid for four years.

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3 Comments To This Article

  • MadridMan posted:

    on 11th September 2012, 19:01:18 - Reply

    Dear Pablo el Mauelito,
    I'm not sure you read the article I wrote. My difficulty understanding was what was spoken in Spanish in Spanish bars. My Spanish is pretty good - if I can hear the words over the noise.
  • Pablo el Mauelito posted:

    on 29th September 2010, 13:47:57 - Reply

    [Deleted by moderator]
  • Svetlana posted:

    on 29th September 2010, 11:50:28 - Reply

    This is very very true and described with little details :) I can understand the feelings ... I don´t feel comfortable myself in a noisy Spanish bars neither when people turn to say something to your ear and you have to understand it after if not, you feel even worse :)))