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Please sir, may we have our chickens back?

Communication. It’s one of those things I take for granted until I travel. Turns out that most of the words my Spanish teacher imparted all those decades ago are completely useless. I’ve been in Spain for a month now, and not one person has asked about the pen of my uncle or the ball of my brother. Take last week when my dog started trying to projectile-eject every fluid internal drop from every available external orifice. I’m fairly sure that not one single word related to this situation had ever come up in Spanish class, no matter how creatively I tried to apply pens and balls (the dog is female).

A local acquaintance explained that in rural Spain, people don’t really have pets. The numerous feral cats just kind of hang out and dogs are pretty much on the payroll. So we ended up at the offices of a local large animal veterinarian, waiting for him to return from several emergency calls.

That morning I’d tried to buy some chicken to grill for dinner, but the butcher had told me his chickens wouldn’t be arriving until xxx. (I actually have no idea what he said at the xxx-point, except that it didn’t seem to involve pens or balls.) But while I waited for the vet to return from large-animal lifesaving, I suggested the hub go down to the butcher shop and try again. Now that it was after five o’clock and presumably the chickens were finished with siesta or whatever else had delayed their arrival, he could convey our pollo-needs. After a surprisingly long time, he returned carrying chicken. A LOT of chicken.

It started out fine, he said. The butcher seemed to understand his request for pollo, and held up a couple of fat chickens. The hub pointed to one, and it was duly bagged. But it was such a chubby fellow, that he asked for a second bag. That’s where communication broke down. The butcher grabbed a second chicken and put it into the bag. No, mimed the hub. He wanted uno pollo and dos bags. Nods all around. The butcher disappeared to the back and returned with two bags, each with a pair of fat chickens. No, no, no! Much head shaking on both sides, along with hand signals. The butcher seemed surprised, but started hauling out piles of chickens and bags. Seeing where this was going, the hub indicated that he’d take the double-pollo bags already loaded, and beat a retreat.

The sun was still high in the sky and heat was rising in visible waves from every surface. The two returned veterinarians and I stared at the bags of rapidly warming raw chicken, and everyone looked nervous. Finally one of the vets suggested that he put our dead chicken collection into their fridge until we finished up. My husband looked so relieved that I didn’t have the heart to tell him what else that fridge contained. (Let’s just say that containers for certain biological samples are pretty much the same world over, although clearly some of the sample-providers were over-achievers…)


By this time, the two veterinary staffers were focused on my dog. And that’s where the next communication issue developed.

“Eeeets?” This was accompanied by a vague gesture toward the dog’s business end.

We both tried a wide variety of words before the embarrassed vet inquired, “Caca?” The hub looked alarmed and began to back away, but I was relieved.

“¡Sí, caca! Oh, yeah, eeeets caca!” I could tell we were communicating at last, so I confided further. “Eeeets mucho, mucho, mucho cacas.” I was on a roll. “Gato caca, burro caca, caballo caca, otros animale cacas, and—my personal favorite—vaca caca…” By this time the hub was out the door. The vets were laughing. Over the next few hours while various blood tests were running and shots administered to my caca-eating dog, the hub sat outside with his dictionary. Finally after hours of the vet’s time and a bill requesting an astonishingly small number of euros, we were almost ready to leave.

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Veterinarios 24 Hr, Piedrahita, Spain

The hub came up to the vet, shook him by the hand, looked him in the eyes, and uttered the immortal words: “Por favor, señor. ¿Podemos tener nuestros pollos de vuelta?”**

[**Please sir, may we have our chickens back?]

So if you find yourselves in Spain in the next few weeks, you should stop by for some (lots) grilled chicken. We can kick back and talk about my uncle’s pens and my brother’s balls. Or maybe not…

"All they told me was don't drink the water..."

“All they told me was don’t drink the water…”

So how about you? What communication issues have you faced when you’re on vacation?