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Oct 26 2013

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Engaging People and Learning a Culture

It’s always amazed me how Paul engages people in conversations. And he never has any agenda other than meeting someone nice and being genuinely interested in them. Paul has spoken some Spanish since well before I met him, over 11 years ago. Whenever we went out to dinner, back in Baltimore, he would chat with the Latin waiters and busboys, asking them where they were from, where they lived now, their age, were they married, do they have children, parents, or pets. Paul never cared about their position in life; the Latin busboy, waiter, or gardener – they were all interesting to him. It was never just a quick hello or como está.

Paul and the Pensionados

He would go far beyond that and really engage them, something he readily does today. Paul wants to learn about our Tico neighbors, friends, and shopkeepers. He’s interested in them and will take the time to listen.  He often has conversations with some of the pensionados (retired guys) in the San Ramon central park. Remember, this is all in Spanish, so he’ll often ask them to slow it down, and repeat it if necessary. Sometimes I’ll ask him, “What was that all about?” At times, he’ll freely admit he has no idea, or maybe just a semblance of understanding. But it won’t stop him. Next time he sees that same man, he’ll walk right up to him and start a conversation all over again. If the person is curious about him, Paul is also open about our lives. And sometimes, a superficial conversation turns into something not so superficial.

We’ve been married almost 10 years and I see this in him all the time – the ability to engage someone in Spanish. It’s a quality I wish I had more of. But Paul says that he actually does have an agenda – it’s the Spanish practice itself, and the desire to learn about another country, people, or culture. Interestingly, he had this interest in Latin America all his life. I guess this is one of the reasons we’re here in Costa Rica today, and the reason we continue to take Spanish lessons. Maybe the better I become at the language, the more readily will I engage Spanish speakers in conversation; to enter into their world and to allow them to enter into mine.

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