Everywhere I live, I make it a point of trying to learn something of cultural pertinence. In India, I took Hindi classes, learned about history and culture, took yoga from an incredibly limber 80 year-old woman, and shadowed devout Hindu worshippers in their temple visits. In Turkey, I studied Turkish, sipped my way to familiarity with Turkish wine under the guidance of an unofficial sommelier, and concocted seven course feasts in a Turkish cooking class.
When I moved to Curacao, I thought I should learn Dutch. Then, I found that all I truly needed was rudimentary “menu Dutch.” (After all, one does need to eat!) All of the Dutch speakers I met in Curacao readily spoke English and, I will guiltily confess, the sound of Dutch held no allure for me. So I dropped that idea. Then I was constantly told or invited to take diving lessons. While this would have been an incredible way to explore the island environment, I simply couldn’t bring myself to cultivate such an expensive hobby. After a year of living in Curacao, I finally came to a decision. To compliment the island’s Latin flair, I needed to take salsa lessons. It took me another eight months to finally enroll.
After two lessons, I was told that every time I said “sorry,” I was obliged to bring apple juice for the instructors. It took me two more classes to get out of the habit. After that, I started making odd noises in place of apologies—to the amusement of my teachers. The unspoken implication of the apple juice rule—you are not allowed to make mistakes—was simply impossible. But I was all right with refraining from feeling guilty about mistakes. I was learning, no apologies required.
On the day of my last salsa class, I brought two liters of apple juice for the instructors, in delayed payment for my initial slip-ups. A new couple was there, beginning their first lesson. The woman kept apologizing for her mistakes and one of the teachers turned to me and commanded, “Maya, tell her what happens when you say ‘I’m sorry.’”
“Appelsap!” I declared in my menu Dutch and opened the refrigerator to drive the point home. The lady looked at me, confused.
“So, every time I apologize, I have to drink apple juice?” she asked.
“No,” I replied, “not exactly…”