The Thursday before Halloween, I decided to go to Oxford’s Center of Hope thrift store for some last-minute costume shopping. I had been invited to the International House’s Halloween party, and my plan was to go as Norville “Shaggy” Rogers, sans Scooby-Doo.
I was disappointed when I couldn’t find anything—not even a ratty, green v-neck t-shirt—that would pass me off as the perpetually hungry and perpetually terrified slacker. I did spend some time browsing through the paperback books, though.
Most of the books that end up in thrift stores are pretty much worthless, in my opinion. On any one visit, you’re guaranteed to find the entire Left Behind series in paper and hardback edition, thirty different kinds of Bibles and a huge collection of religious, self-help and parenting manuals.
The rest of the books are all works of forgettable fiction from the 1980s and 90s—think CIA operatives, the Cold War and nuclear holocaust. If you go into a thrift store’s book section and pick up a book printed after 1997, you’ve struck gold.
Anyway, after looking around for about fifteen minutes, I’d found two worth buying: The Western World Philosophy, printed by Penguin in 2004, and Cassell’s Compact Spanish Dictionary, printed in 1984.
I walked to the front of the store to check out. Now, I’ve taken the foreign language sequence required by my major, which was two semesters of Spanish with Dr. Pacheco. I know enough of the language to carry on a very basic conversation.
The guy running the register was Hispanic. He picked up the Spanish dictionary, looked at it, and looked back at me. He asked: “¿Entiende español?” I knew what he was asking, and I knew how to respond. Still, my tongue got caught in my throat.
“Uhh, yeah, uhh...” I knew the phrase I needed: un poco, a little. But before I could stammer it out, he said it for me. I told him I was working on my Spanish, and he replied with “esta bien.” The books were $2.50, and he counted out my change in Spanish: “uno, dos, tres,” up to, “siete dolares y cincuenta centavos.”
I was thinking about how I knew those words the whole time he was counting, and how this would’ve been a perfect opportunity to practice my Spanish, but I couldn’t muster the courage to say a single word to him in his language. I took my change, thanked him in English and left.
I realized something walking out of that thrift store, though: if I don’t break out of my shell of self-consciousness and interact with people, my language skills will never improve. If you’re taking a foreign language at JSU now, do more than just learn enough to get through the course—immerse yourself in it.
Take my advice, and don’t follow the example I set at that thrift store.