Thank you to Blacklane for sponsoring this post. Scroll down for more info.
Eight years after my time in Uruguay, on vacation 4,500 miles north of Montivdeo, I curled up in pain on the tile floor of a Puebla, Mexico hotel room. A voice came on the TV: “Proximo por canal seis…” Next up on channel six… It didn’t matter what show it introduced, the voice alone relaxed me like a shot of morphine.
Living abroad brings new joys such as learning to order the local liquors, seizing the opportunity to be the exotic, mysterious foreigner, and flirting in a tongue where you haven’t heard that pick-up line a thousand times before. But—as anyone who’s lived in a second or third language knows—it’s also exhausting. Sure, it’s fun to speak Spanish with a swarthy stranger at the bar, but directing the cab driver home when tipsy and tired is not. But when I got back to my room in Montevideo, there it was, that voice: “Proximo por canal seis…los Desperate Housewives.”
Television brought me to a place where I understood the language while lying in bed half-asleep. To where—though I might not identify with Terri Hatcher’s facelift or Eva Longoria’s constant look of faux-outrage—I at least knew why they were supposed to be funny. For that final hour of the day, I could consume pop culture without mentally flipping through my index of Uruguayan culture, searching for a reference. For a few minutes, I could forget the subtle difference between the English “ha-ha-ha,” and the Spanish “ja-ja-ja.”
As a tourist in Puebla, near fluent in Spanish, getting around took little effort. After a day of touring churches, volcanoes, and tacos, I needed no respite from the local language. But today, I was in pain. Whether it was from eating the wrong taco, or perhaps just too many tacos, something in my digestive track was burning like the hot sauce made in nearby Cholula. I sought cool relief, pressing my cheek to the blue and white ceramic tiles for which Puebla is famous. I turned on the television to distract from the pain and true comfort came when the voice—which seems to be the same on every channel throughout Latin America—announced, “Proximo por canal seis…”
I uncurled a bit and repeated it, doing my best impression: I deepened my voice and drew out the “o” to two syllables: “Pro-o-oximo.” I swallowed the second word and let “ca-nal” plunk delicately from my mouth, like a quarter dropping into a pinball machine. “Seis,” it hit the bottom with an inviting bounce. I didn’t need to listen for what show was coming next. It didn’t matter. My comfort came from the announcement, the expectation. Instead of drool, my Pavlovian reaction induced warm fuzzy feelings of a home away from home.
Exploring Uruguay had mostly meant eating oversized steak-burgers called chivitos (not, as the name would imply, made of goat) and learning to steep my mate (tea) properly. But—as is always true in a foreign country—there were some cultural differences that required stretching more than my stomach: I’m not sure I’ll ever live down the mortification of having “Panties don’t go in the washing machine” explained to me by a near-stranger.
At the end of a day like that, escape came in the form of television, specifically the slightly out-of-date dramadies from the early 2000’s. After a long day of trying to make sense of Uruguayan accents—a “zh” sound replaces the letter y, masking the sounds that follow—TV was how I survived. It was in English. I could understand it. It was predictable. At the end of the day, whether navigating Uruguayan bureaucracy to join a gym or staring down a toilet bowl in a Mexican hotel, I’m hit by a wave or relaxation when I hear those words, “Proximo en canal seis.” Next up, on channel six: comfort.
A word on sponsorship: Blacklane, a global professional driver company, supported me financially and in services to be able to put together this post, without dictating the content. Companies like this help blogs like mine survive. Give them a try!