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  • Writer's pictureDillan Taylor

The Ravioli Lady

Palermo Hollywood, Buenos Aires.

A few nights into living in Argentina, I did a solo dinner at the pasta place near my apartment. Armed with practically zero Spanish, I mentally prepared myself for war.

When I got there, I peeked at a menu on one of the outside tables. As I was figuring out what I wanted, a young woman came out of the building, greeted me questioningly, and returned my menu back to its original spot on the table.

I felt like a child who just got in trouble for playing with a toy that wasn’t his.

She ushered me inside and I gave my order. I pointed and spoke slowly to make sure I didn’t mispronounce anything, praying she didn’t ask me any follow-up questions.

She did.

Her Spanish was so quick I genuinely thought she was messing with me. Her pitch went up at the end of her sentence so I knew it was a question.

“Si,” I replied. I had no idea what I just agreed to.

She could’ve asked:

  1. “Do you want a job here?”

  2. “Do you think I’m ugly?”

  3. “Are you a silly little American boy?”

Yes, ravioli lady. Yes I am.

She then asked me, “¿Y para tomar?” Which means, “to take?”

“No, para acá,” I said, indicating I wanted to dine in.

She looked at me as though to say, Yeah…no shit. I thought she hated me.

But the real problem was my vocabulary. In that context, tomar didn’t mean to take; it meant to drink.

She was just asking what the hell I wanted to drink. And I responded by saying I was going to eat in front of her and there was nothing she could do about it.

I somehow managed to get my meal of ravioli, empanadas, and white wine. And I ate it in the corner like I was in time out. It was an embarrassing fear that came true when learning another language.

That was three weeks ago.

Since then, my basic Spanish has gotten noticeably better. I have no trouble going to cafes and stores and getting by.

This weekend, I ran into the Ravioli Lady at the local Irish pub. A few friends and I were watching the UFC fights. She seemed much warmer this time. Maybe it was the booze. Maybe it was because she wasn’t working.

I asked her if she remembered me. She smiled and said she did.

The first thing she noted was how much my Spanish had improved. I told her my side of the story from that night and how embarrassed I was. She thought it was hilarious.

She loved her new title as Ravioli Lady and said she would ask her coworkers to call her that. We fist-bumped and went about our evenings.

I sat there with my buds watching the fights, laughing with them, and drinking beer. And a thought occurred to me.

My brain had been perceiving that embarrassing night at the pasta restaurant as a bad thing. Painful. Discouraging. Something to avoid.

But that’s all such short-term thinking. When we zoom out, we see all the positive and rewarding results.

Even if that chance encounter with Ravioli Lady didn’t happen, the lesson is still the same: some of the deepest human connection comes from sharing what went wrong.

This blog, for example. The posts that get the most engagement by far are the ones about my fears, my travel goofs, and my insecurities.

Could you imagine how boring it would be if I just posted my wins every week? Setbacks and imperfections allow others to see themselves in what you’re sharing.

So back to my time here in Buenos Aires. Most days involve me putting myself out there in some way: asking women on dates, speaking grammatically incorrect Spanish, and saying yes to most invitations.

A lot of times, it feels as though I’m taking a risk. There’s a potential to look stupid, have others judge me, and get rejected. The fight or flight response begs me to avoid and hide in my apartment.

But I’ve learned that every risk has two potential benefits:

  1. a beautiful learning opportunity

  2. a captivating story

It’s usually both.

Per my ravioli story. I’ve told it many times here. It makes people laugh and encourages them to share their experiences with language barriers.

As for learning, I get to remember a time when I didn’t know what tomar meant. I can measure how far I’ve come with my Spanish by looking back at a fun and embarrassing moment.

All this to say: it’s crucial to not rob ourselves of future insights and stories. Take the risk. Do the scary thing.

The worst-case scenario is you have a funny story to tell in the future. Best case is you get exactly what you were hoping for.


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