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The Iberian Horseshoe — A Journey

Part III. South East

The Bullfight & Pronunciation

Steve Porter
Smaller text sizeDefault text sizeBigger text size Add to my bookshelf epub mobi Permalink Ebook MapOporto, Ponte Dom Luis

“Don’t think about the bull or its feelings,” Pedro said. That’s not what it is about. The corrida is a beautiful spectacle. I feel it in my heart; it can make me cry.”

Pedro told me that the bulls were very lucky. They run free in the country, eat the best food, and live for a few years. Unlike the chickens I ate. That seemed a fair point. Yet, I had to decline his offer to take me to a bullfight. I could not see the entertainment value in death and suffering and didn’t want to endorse it by paying to watch. Pedro drove home in silence, perhaps a little offended that I did not fully appreciate his culture.

I decided to ask another of my students about bullfighting as passionate aficionados would chat about the subject for hours. After all, I was there to teach conversational English, not ethics.

Jorge walked into class very upright and straightened the imaginary folds in his pin-striped suit. We shook hands as usual. Another teacher had remarked on Jorge’s resemblance to Hannibal Lecter. The fact that Jorge was a taxman by day probably reinforced that view. But I liked him and thought he looked more like Salman Rushdie.

Jorge didn’t agree with Pedro putting a little pressure on me to attend. Jorge said in his eloquent upper class English, “You can’t make someone like the bullfight. It is part of my culture and my family history. That is not the case for you. We must respect each others opinions. For me it is a passionate spectacle but all you see is a bull being killed.”

It was a recurring theme. You have to detach yourself from the bull’s feelings in order to absorb the wider picture. I agreed with Jorge’s final statement. Watching a bullfight on television was bad enough for me. Maybe I was missing something but I could only imagine that the repulsion I felt on screen would be multiplied at the event itself. Besides I have an aversion to the sight of blood and would probably end up being carried out on a stretcher, which would not be very Hemingway.

Jorge liked the bullfights in Seville best. “The crowd really knows the etiquette there. They applaud at the right moments and know when to be quiet. In Alicante it is more like a football crowd. People shouting and singing is not the way the bullfight should be.”

I asked Jorge if I could have a look at the book he was reading. He looked around the table for a mystery object. He passed me his pen. A Bic.

“No. The book!”

The Scottish double ‘o’ vowel leads to many blank expressions when teaching English to foreigners. Also the ‘i’ can be confused with an ‘e’, so that ‘slipped disc’ comes across as ‘slept desk’. Within the UK of course, there is great variety in the pronunciation of vowel sounds. I used to make the mistake of correcting my students’ pronunciation of ‘oop’ or ‘coop’. But their previous teacher had been from the north of England. And in the south ‘draw’ is pronounced ‘drawer’ and vice versa. Students demand ‘right’ answers and get frustrated when you can’t provide them.

One thing I liked was the fact that I was unable to judge the status of a person from their Spanish accent. As I had learned much of my Spanish pronunciation at university, I wondered if I sounded posh when I spoke it. I asked Pedro one day.

“No, you speak Spanish well. But sometimes you sound funny.”

“In what way?”

The sounds he made in response were like someone trying to swallow a gobstopper. He added that it was difficult to understand my English when I first came to the factory. “You said ‘bits’ instead of ‘boots’ and you promised us ‘sex’ lessons every week not ‘six’.”

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Copyright ©Steve Porter, 2004
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Date of publicationJanuary 2007
Collection RSSGlobal Fiction
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