Wanting to learn a language and needing to learn a language are two different things. There is an urgency attached to the latter that adds just the right amount of pressure to the whole learning experience. But no matter how much time and effort you invest, there are still situations you will be unprepared for. One such situation brought that to light for me recently…
We were taking an internal flight from Bilbao, returning to Madrid and had been in the air for less than 10 minutes when we heard “This is your captain speaking”, which is not something you normally expect on such a short journey.
Listening intently, I understood we were facing “tormentas” (storms) and that the outlook was not looking good at our destination. Blame it on the cabin pressure, the nervous chatter amongst my fellow passengers or just the fact that I haven’t covered the topic of ‘emergency aeroplane announcements’ in my Spanish lessons, but it was impossible for me to follow el piloto’s every word.
We had just left the North which is almost as notorious for its wet weather as the UK and we were aware of forecasted thunderstorms so, a bit of turbulence was to be expected. But this was more than just a bit of turbulence. This was the type that made me check that there was still a sickness bag to hand even though everything else in the seat pocket had been removed for fear of contamination. And when he repeated the word “tranquilo” (calm), I gathered that this was an instruction rather than a description of the weather…
We continued bumping through the clouds when suddenly, the plane lurched. I felt my stomach drop and people screamed and began crossing themselves.
Is this how it ends? I looked to the emergency exit row, two in front of me. A groomed man in pressed chinos and velvet Aladdin slippers (who had had to be reminded to fasten his seat belt before take-off) finally removed his headphones and glanced around with a look of terror, wishing he had paid attention to the safety announcements.
I don’t know what scared me more – not being able to understand everything being said or realising that this ignorant cabrón would ultimately be in charge of our fate if things took a turn.
Note: I, myself had paid extra special attention to the cabin crew safety demonstration since the linguistic geek within me was taking advantage of every opportunity to learn. And sí, I may have relied heavily on gestures to comprehend, but I was confident that I was in a better position to handle safety procedures than him. At least I knew we were on an aeroplane and not a flying carpet…
For at least 10 minutes, the pilot spoke, his calm tone unwavering throughout. He could have been talking about football or what he ate for lunch for all we cared because regardless of what he said, his technique of reassurance worked, and the fear subsided long before the turbulence. He stayed with us, and only when satisfied that all was ok, did he bid us adios, and the plane erupted in applause.
I joined in, grateful for this man who had foreseen the fear and had taken the time to instil calm amongst the passengers, who were already tense and nervous from travelling in these uncertain times.
There was no further announcement in English, but I understood enough from the little I could translate and from the admiration in the eyes of those around me.
Things calmed down and the crew began their preparations for landing. Once again, Señor Responsable in the emergency exit row had to be asked more than once to stow his Louis Vuitton man-bag to clear the area…
When the plane touched down in Madrid, we were all a little surprised to see that the sun was shining, the sky was clear and there was little more than a light breeze on the runway.
The memory of the incident in the sky seemed to fade as quickly as clouds, but it got me thinking…
It’s all very well knowing enough Español to be able to order food in a restaurant or exchange pleasantries with a neighbour, but what about times like this?
One day, someone might ask me for help, instead of for the time. Or the next time I fly en avión I might get seated in the emergency exit row and will be the one entrusted with understanding safety announcements to protect the lives of others.
And so, I must be prepared.
(I have also made a mental note never to trust a man who travels in velvet slippers).