“Let me think about it,” was the response from my Toledo friends when I nudged them to come along to Madrid with me on Sunday for a Polyglot Meet-up. As if I couldn’t see their eyes glaze over with the red **NERD-ALERT** warning lights flashing behind…
So I went on my own.
I’d never been to such an event before. Social gatherings – hrrumpfh. But I quite fancied this one, not least because I would finally get to meet Alex Rawlings in person. I came across this personable polyglot a couple of years ago, when the BBC featured him in this video showing off his language skills. I started following his blog and we exchanged a handful of messages. Then, a few weeks ago, I was delighted to read that he was organising a meeting for language enthusiasts in Madrid.
I’d had no trouble finding the venue, although the restaurant seems kinda deserted when I walk in. I eventually find a member of staff fiddling with a table cloth.
Excuse me, I’m here for the polyglot meeting.
The polywhat…? What is that?!
I decide to take a different approach.
Some people have booked a room for an event here this afternoon. Has anyone arrived yet?
Well… there’s some people downstairs…
He points me in the direction.
I recognise Alex straight away. Unexpectedly, he also recognises me as “Lady Of The Cakes”. I’m not quite sure how or why… it’s been almost a couple of years since we exchanged those two or three messages on the blogs. He’s been hopping from country to country and must have met thousands of new people. I guess having a superhuman memory and being a polyglot go hand-in-hand. That would also explain why I’m not one.
The organisers have prepared tables with language flags and ice breaker games. But there is no ice to be broken: People arrive and they immediately start chatting to the next-best complete stranger. I notice that most arrive unaccompanied… evidently, I wasn’t the only one cruelly abandoned by their so-called friends…
Pretty much everyone seems to speak Spanish and English, the rest is potluck. I meet a Spaniard who has the best German accent I have ever heard. (From a Spaniard.) I chat to a young Israeli student, switching between English, Spanish and Portuguese. I ask him what he’s studying. Circus studies, he tells me. I blink. I confirm that I understood correctly. It’s like someone telling you they’re an accountant and you’re stuck for a response, but for the exact opposite reason. My brain is whirring with questions. Turns out his specialism is juggling, not lion taming.
My worst fear – that someone accosts me in French (this is my kryptonite right now!) – does not materialise. Instead, I get myself caught up in a maelstrom of Hebrew, until the speaker realises from my deer-in-the-headlights-stare that I’m not getting any of this. I point them towards Mr Circus.
Three hours go by in a flash. I only manage to nab a fraction of the people who I would have liked to
interrogate have a chat with. I fix a lunch date for Tuesday with a lovely couple visiting from Vermont who had already been planning to come to Toledo.
On my way back to Atocha station, I’m thinking… I wouldn’t mind doing this again… and it didn’t even involve cake! I must be coming down with something…
Post Script: It has just transpired that the next Polyglot Meetup Madrid event will be held on 17 January 2016. Just in case anyone wants to “think about it”… ahem.
[Find Alex Rawlings’s language blog here: www.rawlangs.com]