Working in a different country certainly as its boundaries and limitations with adjusting to the cuisine, culture, and the ever-present language barrier. When I first landed in Venezuela, I tried to remember everything my high school Spanish teacher taught me, and I am sure she would be ashamed of how much I actually remembered if she could see me now. I feel I have learned more about the Venezuelan culture than I could have ever read or learned on my own and it all has to do with being thrust into the culture and being forced to learn to survive.
I want to address some of the small problems I faced when I got down to the country but have come to conquer to a certain degree. One of the first things that I was interested about was the clubhouse culture and how that would differ from the United States. What I have actually found is that it really doesn’t differ at all, there is the traditional card playing, loud music, and people with headphones and laptops buried in their locker both in affiliated clubhouses and LVBP clubhouses. I would say the one major difference is that we have a pure tile floor in the clubhouse so if you come stomping around in your cleats after a particularly bad outing you are liable to end up on your butt. This particular scenario has accounted for quite a few sidesplitting laughs as you watch someone go from pure anger to embarrassment in about two seconds. All in all the clubbies, personnel, players and surroundings are the same as they are in the states.
The next barrier I thought about was the food issue; I was extremely worried I was going to lose a ton of weight because I am an extremely picky eater. I don’t like most fruit, or vegetables and ask anyone who knows me personally and they can tell you that I am one of the hardest people to get to try new food on the planet! I am stuck in my ways, and I know what I like and I do not stray too far from it. I was fortunate to be on the same flight from Miami to Caracas as a guy who played here last year so he was able to help me with some basic food items that were good. We are told right off the bat to avoid the fruit and vegetables (no problem there!) in Venezuela because they wash them off with the water, and apparently there is some strand of Montezuma’s revenge in Venezuela. I found a few staples that I really enjoyed; foods like Arepas, Parilla, and tacos. There is a taco stand inside of the stadium that knows me by first name, and I must say I am no connoisseur but they might have the best steak tacos on the planet! I eat three for lunch and three for dinner every home game! (hint, squirt lime on tacos). On the off days we are pretty much on our own for food with the meal money that the team gives us, and if you travel to any mall you can find American staples as Churches chicken, burger king, KFC, Quiznos, and McDonalds. Although the traditional food choices are all there (in Spanish of course) you can get some things down here that you cannot get in the states. Things like the Chicken Mac from McDonalds, which is a big mac but instead of beef its got chicken patties on it (and yes they are good!). Another thing I have noticed down here in Venezuela too, is that the food portions are a lot smaller you have to ask for large size things, which is the equivalent to what they give you normally in the states. Portion size alone will cause you to lose those last 10 to 15 lbs unless you are like this blogger who just orders more food (haha). I found out tha the reason that all drinks are served in smaller sizes is that because it is so hot and humid down here that the larger sizes will get too warm for you to drink before you can finish it.
I try and stay away from the American food unless I am really craving it, I truly want to experience the culture and I am forcing myself to open myself to the culinary delights this country has too offer because they are numerous. The fish down here as well as the sushi are amazing and fresh, although I am still not used to have complete fish served to me with the head and tail still attached, that might be something I never get used too. Overall I would have to give the food here a huge A+, everything I have forced myself to try has been delicious.
I have to be honest and say I didn’t quite know what to expect about the language barrier, but when I landed I was pleasantly surprised. Immediately you learn to say “Habla espanol muy poquito, lo siento” meaning in rough US translation “I speak very little Spanish, I’m sorry” but I have found that as long as you try at restaurants, the field, with the guys or just around the island people will bend over backwards to help you find or get what you need. A lot of the time I’ve found that with myself trying to work on my Spanish they want to work on their English so we more times that not have a spanglish conversation, each learning from each other. Most of my teammates down here have played in the United States at one time or another so they all know very good English and they are always willing to help us when we go out. The Americans or “gringos” usually do not go out on the streets without one or two Venezuelan friends to help us translate just in case, and when there is that time you and someone are just not communicating they step right in and order for you or find out what you have been asking or just take charge and help you. I for one couldn’t be more grateful because there have been a few times where the language barrier was just too much and a teammate stepped in and helped me out or else I would still be standing at that arepa stand in Caracas trying to find out what happened to my order!
The more you are in the country, and the more you acclimate yourself the better things become. I will admit that when I first landed I was a bit overwhelmed by everything, but throughout the days the countrymen and women as well as my teammates have made it a priority to make all right of us feel at home and make sure we have everything we need. I cannot thank my teammates everyone at the Margarita Bravos enough because they truly have done everything they can to make us feel like we are at home and are taken care of. This experience has been a once in a lifetime experience for me, and I cannot wait to keep taking it all in and have stories for many more years to come.
Until next time