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  • Arturo the Bull

By air or by sea?

A Spanish friend and I spent three months in the United States back in 1992, first staying at my old flat in New York City, then bussing to the Midwest to visit my family.

One of the things I wanted to make sure to do was to send some of my books from New York back to Spain. I could take some with me in my luggage, but a couple were too heavy, so I decided to send them by mail.

My friend and I took the packaged books to the central Post Office in New York, an impressive historical building with a beautiful lobby with room for post-office-related expositions. We got in the shortest line, which was about ten people long.

Before we went to mail the package, my friend and I had agreed that he would do all of the talking, this way practicing his English. We went over the basic words and questions he would need, like:

  • I'd like to send this package to Spain.

  • What is the cheapest rate?

  • By plane or by boat?

As we stood in line, we went over those very same questions and possible answers from the guy on the other side of the barred window. My friend was just a little nervous since this was really the first time he had tried speaking English since we had landed in New York about a week earlier. He wasn't very confident.

The line moved forward and we were now the first people waiting for a window. I turned to him and told him that I was going to go over there and look at some of the showcases, since I'd collected stamps as a boy. Before he could object, I was gone.

About five minutes later I could smell the smoke that was coming out of his ears. He was furious with me. He had gone to the window and had forgotten everything we had practiced. It was a disaster and it was my fault for having left him alone.

But what would have happened if he had

really been alone?

The whole post office experience / exercise was something I had learned myself my first time in Madrid. Back in the late '80s there was no such thing as email or WhatsApp and while I stayed in Spain I wrote and received a lot of snail mail. I walked across the city to the main post office and waited in line and bought stamps and even mailed packages, all by myself, I had no one to help me out.

Imagine my surprise when I found out months later that I could buy stamps in any tobacco shop in my neighborhood and drop letters into any yellow post box. It was a really long walk from my apartment to the main post office, I would have saved so much time. But I still would have had to speak to the guy at the tobacco shop!

It's not always easy, it can be scary, but sometime in your language-learning adventure you're going to have to jump in the water and struggle to swim. You can be really prepared, you will probably forget all that preparation, but the other guy or gal will usually be patient with you and you'll end up getting what you want, which is a really good feeling.

Go out and mail a package today!

Check out this related video on our YouTube channel Tell me a tale: I'd like a cheeseburger. Subscribe to the YouTube channel and the Tell me a tale blog, and if you leave a comment there, you can get free mini-lessons for each of the videos in Season One!

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