Shall We Dance?

by Adriana Restrepo
(United Nations, New York)
Translated by Michelle Mock


Would you like to dance, my love?  ¿Bailamos?  Jessica had often listened to the romantic guitar music of the song by Enrique Iglesias.  Never did she imagine that one day, she would have a boy standing in front of her, who would ask: "¿Bailamos?"  Timidly she nodded, remembering how she had arrived at that place.  Her father, a member of the United States Diplomatic Corps, had just been sent to Chile with his family.  And here she was, in a country she had only recently heard of, in front of a friendly looking young man, who extended his hand offering to take her to the dance floor.  They were celebrating New Year's at a hotel in the mountains.  or this New Year's Eve dinner, everyone was eating and dancing in a large ballroom.  The music started to play again, and couples danced on the dance floor.  Her face flushed.  What was she doing?  Should she give him her hand?  What was she going to say to him?  How were they going to communicate?  Their father had given them a geography lesson.  He had shown them a narrow stretch on the map of South America.  Look, he had said: "fjords and glaciers in the south, volcanoes and lakes near the center, an arid desert, as dry as the moon, in the north, the Andes mountains to the East and the Pacific Ocean on the west."  Yes, all that geography was very good, but of what use was it to her at that moment?  She could not recite all those geography words!  Finally, she felt an inspiration.  Encouraged by her mother, she gave her hand to the boy who stood in front of her and she let him guide her to the dance floor.  She had understood something fundamental.  A language is not just a collection of words.  A language is a culture.  When she gave him her hand, they were speaking the same language.  Now she knew what her first words to him would be.  She would say: "My name is Jessica.  I am American."


Adriana Restrepo is an interpreter at the United Nations in New York.  She wrote this for a group of students who were learning first year Spanish.  These students from California, worked in small groups, using a dictionary, for many weeks in order to come to understand this example of a meeting in a "strange new world".  Reprinted with permission.

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