One evening in June 2010, I was driving my bike around Soho. That summer I worked in London as a taxi bike driver. It works simply: you are riding round the streets and the people can hire you like a cab. You charge them according to the distance covered, number of passengers, day time and other circumstances. I was just about to turn into a small street when I saw a crowd of young people to burst out of a nearby bar. They babbled something in a language that I (at that time) did not understand. I told them: ‘I do not speak Spanish. Do you speak English? Como estas?’ But I could understand very well what they wanted. Actually, I wanted to understand because they were potential customers. They signaled me to wait.
Spanish guys walked up to me and started asking questions. Only three of them spoke English and their vocabulary counted about tree words. The rest was in Spanish. They were after some clubs. I told them about the Leicester Square and pointed my hand in that direction. Immediately I offered them a lift. But only three. Maximal capacity was three persons. They heard – or wanted to hear free instead of three. The words sometimes sound similar, mainly with non-native speakers. I explained them that they must pay. Later they asked about the directions to the Leicester Square, talking one across another, so I did not understand anything. Actually, it did not matter…
I showed them the way and they hit the road, chatting and trailing behind the group only Spanish people can. I also went after my business. I did not even know that I spoke Spanish so well…
You can hear Spanish in London at every corner. Many of my colleagues – taxi bikers – were from Spanish speaking countries. For example Sergio. He was an Indian from South America, Columbia. (No, he did not know Shakira in person) With Spanish you can get around in the whole Latin America, Portugal and Brazil. When you speak Spanish at a certain level, you can understand basic Portuguese. So I decided to learn Spanish. I bought a book, Basic Spanish, and I studied every day in the morning, sometimes for even three hours. Actually, I learnt Spanish in English, from and English text book. After two months I could communicate quite well. Everything is possible, you just need to sit down and do the basics. Yet, for me it was not so difficult because I had already mastered one language – I had a university degree in English.
Few days later I did my Spanish lesson in the morning and went to do washing up. In the laundry I met Aldo, my Mexican friend who had two passports: Mexican and Italian, as his father had Italian origin. In Europe, it was more beneficial for him to use the Italian one. Immediately, I tried the new words from the morning lesson. Aldo said that I was doing well and rather changed into English. I dropped my stuff into a free washing machine and added the powder. When done, I switched to the dryer and put the clothes on the window to dry. Hope they won´t throw them away. The day before they almost threw away my issue of The Independent but I stopped the cleaning lady in the last moment. After washing my clothes I went to the library. First I solved the things on the internet. Actually, I did not because still no progress with looking for a new job. I just found what the procedure is if you want to be a teacher in England. After that registered in the Westminster Library, so I had free access to all books and to the internet. I checked out some book. The one by Gordon Ramsay, the famous chef, caught my eye.
On my way back to the hostel I stopped at Waitrose. I bought a grilled chicken and some coke. As I was walking up the stairs in the hostel, I came across a man sitting on the staircase. Sitting and blocking the passage. He moved aside and let me go but eventually he stood up and blocked the passage again. I overtook him and headed for my room. He followed. I pulled out my key. He too. We lived in the same room. He asked me, whether the bed on the left was free. I nodded. He introduced himself and we had a good talk. In English. His name was Tom and he worked as a chef at one of Gordon Ramsey restaurants in Chelsea. Before he worked at Harrods and he spent some time in Northern Ireland. So we discussed the situation in Ulster, Bloody Sunday (his father lived in Derry during the massacre in 1972). Talk moved to the guests at his restaurant. It was a fancy one with a lunch menu starting at 100 pounds. Kate Moss and the footballer Frank Lampard were regulars there. Finally, he asked me a few questions about fitness and showed me his collection of knives. A good chef should have his own set of knives.
Improving my language skills continued few nights later. Around half past eleven I was driving the bike along the centre. I was doing quite well, compared to the fact that it was Tuesday but I was trying to make some additional cash. I headed for Soho across Chinatown. When I was about to turn left from the Shaftesbury Avenue, I realized that I had not been at the Leicester Square from the other side, entering from the Wardour Street, that night. I turned around, for about two meters I was riding in the wrong direction and turned into the street. Two girls waved toward my bike. Actually, they did not explicitly wave but I felt that they might be interested in my service. I could earn at least the two pounds that would complete a 50 pound shift. A short ride to the end of the boulevard.
They did not look extra hot but they were quite friendly. Both came up to my bike and started asking questions in German. I answered in German as well. „Hallo, wie kann ich hilfen? Wo wollen sie gehen?“ They were surprised and asked about a disco, but a hetero disco with “jungen” or boys. I told them that I knew such a place. They demanded hetero disco at all costs, obviously, they did some pre-drinking.
We “sprachen” about different things. They were primarily interested in the price for the bike ride. I told them “funf”, which is five in German. Es ist moglich zahlen in Euro – you can pay in Euro. They said “zu vie”, which means too much. I suggested four, they bargained to two and showing boobs. I wanted to object but she was faster and rolled up the tight top and I saw a part of her nipple – actually, it was almost fully exposed even when covered with the top. Well, this was not necessary and I have seen better. No shape..I thought. Neither the face was attractive. I said: “OK, for two but never ever do this again!”
She got up the bike and I drove them for about 150 meters to the Leicester Square. I said goodbye – Auf wiedersehen – and immediately switched to Hungarian, because my Hungarian friends were parking with their bikes nearby. They asked me whether I spoke German. I told them that few nights before I spoke even Spanish. In this city I speak four languages and communicate in five (later I even served a customer in Russian).
Objectively, Spanish is more attractive language than German and the Spanish girls were also more cute. Spanish is more emotional whereas Germans talk only business.
For the rest of the summer I practiced my Spanish where I could. For example with Sergio. He was about to quit the bike job because he was just about to complete his studies at the London School of Economics and find a job in the field. Many taxi bikers did it just as a temporary job, until they completed their studies or collected enough money to start some kind of business. One Italian was opening his own restaurant during my stay in London. It is a logical move, because this job does not offer any social security and you are in constant arguments with the customers, taxi drivers, police and with other bike companies. (at weekends there was about 300 bikes in the streets) I do not even mention overused joints and cold. Try cycling eight and more hours daily…