Zoe, my tolerant travel companion who answers roughly 50 Spanish language related questions of mine a day, answered one particularly involved one as we were walking back to our hostel from an exceptionally tasty dinner in El Calafate: crispy milanesa, patagonian lamb, wine, and grilled and boiled vegetables, my favorite of which has become calabaza verde or green pumpkin which has the refreshing tartness of a green tomato without the bitterness that comes when a fried green tomato isn’t fried quite right. (The calabaza verde is very easy to sautée and becomes tender very quick.)
I was stuck on how to express feeling correctly: "I feel," "to feel," "it feels," etc. “Sentir,” is to feel, but it depends, Zoe explained, when you would really use this particular verb. In English, we are in a longheld linguistic habit of using “feel” when we might also use “seem." "It seems like it's 40 degrees outside" and "it feels like it's 40 degrees outside" could be interchangeable. “It seems like” and “it feels like” are, however, deliberately but subconsciously separated in the Spanish language. Where the verb perecer is to seem, the verb sentir (se), is a reflexive verb meaning to feel, its use reserved for more personal, emotional types of expressions. All of that business is not even getting into the fact that tocar is to (physically) touch.
Because to feel (emotionally) is its own verb, it carries some weight. One might say “me siento feliz” (I feel happy) or “me siento infeliz" (I feel unhappy). Sentir is also a crucial part of the expression “lo siento” which is familiar to a number of English speakers and means “I’m sorry” but only very loosely. What “lo siento” means more directly is “I feel it.”
So to say “lo siento” or “I feel it” when you bump into someone’s arm in the grocery aisle is not really sending the right vibe; this is when one would say “perdón” and keep moving. So when, then, do you say “lo siento”? In a more emotionally consequential circumstance: when you want to express with someone that you understand and that you too will bear the emotional burden: sickness, a death, a tough day, a small but human mistake.
On our first night in El Calafate, which was also our first night not traveling or sharing a water bottle, our two tired souls met two other traveling souls: Tina and Dirk, hailing distantly from Germany. They had been traveling together for a 15 month adventure of a lifetime: through Bangkok, Tasmania (their favorite), Nepal, Chile, and now Argentina, planning to round off their trip after having passed through the Darwinian sanctuary of the Galapagos and the calm of Iceland with its many cafes and its apparently very special hot dog stand called "Baejarins beztu pylsur" which translates to "The Best Hot Dog in Town," of course.
We had a lot of questions for them: what inspired their trip, had it been hard to leave home and family, to say goodbye to friends of all kinds, to leave work. In awe of their relaxed and outgoing spirits after so many months of traveling as a pair, our hurried questions felt sort of silly once uttered. For some an investment is one more car, a bigger apartment, just one more thing - but for Dirk and Tina it was this grand and wonderful adventure that they, jointly, had decided to do and had saved up for diligently, just as one would with any other major transaction. The “things” would always be there.
Dirk described their experience together as “two journeys:” the first being the world journey itself and the other of getting to know the other person through that lense. Where the desire to leave everything behind, to get up and go, might be this grand universal sentiment (an emotion, a feeling), so is this openness and readiness to share the experience alongside another person. A lot of people wonder what it would be like to travel the world with another human, be it a friend or romantic partner, but don’t actually do it. “You think about it, but you cannot feel it,” Dirk said.
Until you do do it, at least. Cheers to feeling and not thinking - and to saying “perdón” instead of “sorry.” After all, if you really do want to say sorry, it’s truly never too late.