Spanish surprise in Singapore

I was taken aback at my Spanish class today, when a Frenchman expressed surprise that I was English and not Canadian, saying that I had no accent. After spending the last six years of my life being told that I had an accent and it was hard to understand, to find out now that I don’t have an accent threw my worldview completely out of whack. I tried using my best RP accent. "Not English" the Frenchman said. I adopted my Cockerney right-royal-barrel-of-monkeys-dragged-up-in-earshot-of-Bow-bells Estuary English. "Not English" spoke the Frenchman. I thought about going Zamerzet on him and gibbering about scrumpy and combine harvesters, but thus spake the Frenchman, nevermore.

Then again, it was a Spanish lesson, in Singapore, and maybe all his work colleagues are dishonest Malaysians pretending to be English. Why would anyone do that?

Our second Spanish lesson was funnier than the first. We have a rather cantankerous old man in the class, who appears to think he knows Spanish better than the teacher. To be fair, she’s only Spanish, whereas he is a rather old Singaporean who has visited Russia, "but not Vietnam" as he volunteered in this evening’s class. It almost seems as though he’s desperate to derail the class by rambling on about some irrelevant detail of the language that nobody wants to know about. In thirty years, I will be him.

In our class we have one pastry chef, who will be working somewhere in Tanjong Pagar in September. I intend to make friends with her and avail myself of cut-price pastries, although the last time that happened I was forced to eat two foot-long chocolate eclairs. We also have the aforementioned Frenchman (who has an Argentinean wife), a Chinese guy from the last class I did, an Indian guy whose name is apparently "Cash" although I’m sure that isn’t how it’s spelt, two ladies whose names I don’t remember, and a random guy who turned up this week.

Other things I learned: the Spanish have never heard of ghee, or clarified butter. Then again, "Cash" declared that it wasn’t butter, it just comes from cows, and when I said it was hydrogenated butter, the Frenchman looked at me in wonder and asked how I knew that. "Doesn’t everyone know that?" I said – but perhaps not everyone is an aficionado of transfatty acids.

The other knowledge I spread today was the etymology of the phrase "letting the cat out of the bag" which is all to do with dishonest pig salesmen trying to pass off a cat in a sack as a piglet in a basket: and thus why you shouldn’t ever buy a pig in a poke. Useful advice for Singapore, where the last pig farm was demolished years ago.

What did I learn? Well, my teacher thinks "ternera" means beef, and Google claims it means veal. On the one hand, my teacher is Spanish, but on the other hand Google has a market capitalization of almost $400 billion, so how do I decide?

Compared to that, learning the difference between prepositions when you’re talking formally and informally can hardly compare for intellectual complexity. After two hours, my brain was baked (I’ve felt pretty awful since Sunday, and begin to suspect I’m coming down with something) so I strode off home (via the burger joint in Arab Street) to try to attain my Fitbit target for the day.

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