On my trip to Las Vegas a little more than a month ago to visit my nani, I found myself seated next to a slim, quiet man. Those two adjectives are a God-send for anyone who travels solo, especially this girl: For me, a plane ride is relaxing. It’s a time when I pull out my book or magazine and allow myself to become absorbed, coming up for air only when the stewardess offers me some hot tea.
After a few hours of quiet reading time, I found myself, for one of the very few times in my life, engaged in conversation with a stranger on a plane–and thoroughly enjoying it.
He was from Chile, and when he said his name, I’d swear he called himself “Drodrigal.” But when he spelled it, I learned it was actually the lovely, accented pronunciation of “Rodrigo.”
Rodrigo teaches English to grade school children in his home, Santiago, the capital of Chile. But, even for a capital, it cannot compare with what he sees when he travels the U.S. He was on holiday, traveling the country with his boyfriend, who lives in California. He was on his way from Chicago to Vegas, but he started out in New York. He loves the big cities, he says. He went to an off Broadway play and marveled over all the lines the actors memorize, amazed by the amount of talent he saw on the stage. Only two or three actors were in the play, each playing multiple characters, including a man playing a woman, which thoroughly impressed Rodrigo.
He blushed when I complimented him on his English, and he made me blush when he said I couldn’t be old enough to be married. We marveled that one needs a license to drive a vehicle, but anyone can marry or procreate at any time, without passing any kind of test or certification.
He loves his job, but it’s not a forever gig. The children, he says, are hard work. So crazy. He wonders how parents do it.
This was his second time traveling the country. His impressions of Americans, America, and English included:
- We are cheerful and friendly. No one just says “hi” or “bye”–it’s accompanied by “How are you?” or “Have a great day” and a big smile. His village is small. Everyone knows everyone, and everyone is immediately distrustful of strangers, so this kind of friendliness is foreign to him. However …
- … We are rude and clueless about our surroundings. He couldn’t believe the number of people he saw yawn without covering their mouth.
- Hotels are fun to stay at because they are so clean. The maids pick up after you, and it’s nice to come back to a tidy room after a full day.
- Even though he is an English teacher, there are certain things one can say that are rude, that a non-native speaker would never know are rude: He called a woman “lady,” and his boyfriend had to tell him, “You say ‘ma’am.’ ‘Lady’ is rude.” But Rodrigo found “ma’am” hard to pronounce–it comes out like “mom” when he says it. “Miss” is much easier.
- He does not like to say “beach.” It comes out too much like “bitch,” which he shared at a stage whisper, and nearly giggling.
And now, a word-painting of this man: Rodrigo’s hair was thick and black. He wore it slicked back, but it did not appear slick or greasy. He wore thick black glasses he had to continually push up his nose. His tight black pants suited his slim frame, though the pants were a touch too big at the waist, so when I saw him walking around the airport, he was often tugging them up. He listened to Adele on his seat-back monitor and read the screen in Spanish. He wore white Sony headphones and had thick lips, perfect for smiling and kissing. His eyes were dark, which matched the rest of his black wear, and a his two front teeth had small gap between them.
This conversation happened Feb. 22, 2014. I wonder what he’s doing right now? Did he study me as much as I studied him?