3 min

Tongue-tied lovers

Dating across language barriers

ACTION SPEAKS LOUDER. Language isn't the only way of getting to know a new lover. Credit: Daniel Ehrenworth

Sex rum women sex rum women sex rum women. My new mantra.

The first time I travelled to Havana, Cuba it was to heal a broken heart. Walking with my friend Dave on bustling Obispo St in the early evening I tried to pick up a sexy mulatta, but she said she didn’t do girls. As we walked away, she chased after us and asked in broken English if maybe we could have a threesome? But I saw the image in my head: skinny white fag, steamy mulatta and hefty dyke rolling around mattress. No, gracias.

Looking for the scene we flagged a bicycle taxi. “Donde esta gay bar por favor?” I asked in my stupid gringa Spanish. Sneering, the driver took us to the cathedral square.

Dave and I walked around in circles like ponies at the carnival looking for homo haven. We spotted tons of queers but couldn’t figure out where they were coming from.

Finally we gave up and sat down to listen to a salsa band and drink mojitos. The square was brightly lit because there was a movie shoot so there were lots of people just hanging out. I spotted a gorgeous girl sitting on crumbling steps with eight men. I yelled to her in slurred English, “I love you! Will you marry me?” A friend sitting beside her translated my plea into Spanish and she smiled and said “Si.” I walked closer to her and almost fainted.

She couldn’t stop smiling. Long curly dark hair, warm brown eyes, a bit shy – my idea of a beautiful girl. Her friend, Alberto, spent hours with us that evening, patiently translating our conversation.

I invited Maria to my guesthouse and while Dave entertained Alberto on the balcony, Maria and I slipped into the bedroom. (I guess she’s wasn’t that shy after all.) We ripped off our clothes and kissed like hungry men.

It was the language of love, baby, and I was happy until someone hammered on the door, yelling in Spanish. The man who owned the guesthouse was saying not very nice things about homos and screaming for us to get the hell out of his house. Dave found the place listed under gay guesthouses on the Internet – maybe this guy just didn’t like dykes?

My heart was in my mouth but we threw on our clothes and left real fast. Dave was steaming mad at me, saying that I was indiscreet, that it was all my fault and that he was going to stay at the Saint Somebody Monastery and asking if I was coming with him.

Now, I might be wrong, but to me monastery equals no sex equals no fun equals lousy vacation so I told him I was going with the Cubans and we would hook up later. I figured if they were going beat or rob me – not an uncommon event for naïve tourists – it made sense to get laid first.

We waited on the corner for a taxi (which in Cuba is any car that stops for you) and drove to Alberto’s friend’s apartment. Nestled in decaying Old Havana we finally had a private love nest, complete with Señor Rooster crowing directly under the window.

Finally, we were alone: me, Maria and Alberto, our translator. It was a different kind of threesome, and not one I had ever fantasized about, that’s for sure. Through him, I learned she was in Havana illegally and lived in fear of being stopped by the police.

When we met, she was working as a cook in an illegal paladar, a private home in Havana. Her wage, when the boss felt like paying, was one or two dollars per day. I asked him what was her greatest flaw? Alberto, looked briefly down at his shoes, then at me and replied calmly and evenly: her greatest flaw is that she puts everyone else before herself.

I found the translation game tiring, but Alberto was a patient man. Maria would say something, he would translate, I would respond. You get used to it. The only thing I could say in Spanish was “Taco Bell” so Alberto was with us all the time, except in the bedroom. And in bed, who’s talking?

But you can’t shag 24 hours a day. I’ve been asked, when you don’t speak the same language as your lover, how do you communicate, or get to know the other person? I decided if I can’t understand what she’s saying then I’ll try to understand who she is, and unravel her distinctive character traits via objective scientific observation, like I’d learned in grade six.

I paid mega-attention to her. I observed her daily habits: she drank moderately, she hated smoking, she was very orderly, neat and tidy. At the beach she swam miles out, while I was scared and turned around. As a lover, she was erotic and daring but also nurturing and affectionate. We hosted a dinner party and I met her friends: they were warm, gentle and caring. Not one person spoke English but it didn’t matter.

Language is an important form of communication but from my own crazy experience I have come to realize it’s not the only one. For the first time in my life I’ve had to listen in a way that actually gave me more information than if we spoke the same language.

I’ve taken three more trips to Cuba since that first visit and, despite the language barrier, I believe that Maria and I have more in common than all of the English-speaking women I’ve dated in the past. To me, it all boils down to the old adage. Actions speak louder than words, baby. Much louder. Just listen.