Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Living La Vida Boca

Prior to moving to Chetumal Mexico I searched the internet for a Spanish school in Chetumal, to no avail. An acquaintance found me a private tutor, a Belizean man studying at the university and living in Chetumal. So at least once I week I get my Spanish class, which is tailored to what I need to survive here. I couldn’t imagine sitting through a public Spanish class and asking the teacher… “Como se dice ‘Do you have hormone cream for menopause’ in Espanole?”


How do you say “I am 48 and learning a new language.” In Spanish?


My first meeting with the Spanish Teacher established that I knew quite a few words, which made me proud. My pronunciation and grammar were, let’s say, not as good as the 3 year old who lives in the house behind us. I am unlearning all the bad Spanish grammar and pronunciation taught to me by Bigness so that people won’t laugh (and call me an idiot to my face) or get that puzzled look on their face which tells me “we think she is saying Spanish words, but what are they?” Bigness thinks my Spanish is already good enough, all he has to do now is to teach me the curse words.


My one saving grace is that I don’t care how stupid I sound. No, really, I don’t. And when I get real frustrated I revert to English, which has a startling effect on sales personnel (especially when I use the phase “No speaky Spanish” and turn my palms up). A couple of times the have answered me in English. And I wonder why they couldn’t have put me out of my misery a little sooner.


I came here with some misconceptions. I assumed I would start out asking questions in my mush mouth Spanish and invariably I would get an answer in English. I assumed that if the clerk didn’t understand me, he or she would find someone to interpret. I think every foreign country should be this nice when dealing with egotistical English speakers. NOT SO. Big new to me: in Mexico they speak SPANISH and in Chetumal, Mexico which borders an English speaking country, they have just started teaching English in High School THIS YEAR. Nobody is busting out in English here to rescue me when I refer to MYSELF as ustedes. For the non-Spanish speaker, a rough translation is that, I have a bad habit of referring to myself as YOU in the plural form. I just blunder through with my 100 phrases adapted and borrowed from. I just describe the thing if I don’t know the word for it, the colors, the size, and eventually someone understands my kitchen Spanish. I've stopped caring how ridiculous I sound when I point to the door and call it a window, because maybe someday “me talk pretty”. Yes, I actually pointed to the door at Sam’s Club and said “Abierto la ventana, por favor” and they opened the door, even though I had just called it a window. See... I’m making progress.


So now Bigness and I play a game when we are out shopping. I do all the talking – in SPANISH. And I only talk to him in ENGLISH and I act as a mentally challenegged interpreter for him. He lets me know how close I am to understanding what they are really saying. I get more respect that way, no one clicking their teeth at me. I would like to think it is because my Spanish is improving, but down deep I know it is because my ham fisted 6 foot 4 inch husband is so scary looking. I make excuses for myself trying to joke in Spanish and explain to the unsuspecting taxi driver or store clerk that my school for spanish is the telenovella (Spanish soap opera), it sometimes gets a chuckle, but most of the time I get a worried look.

10 comments:

Hope said...

As always, I am delighted to read your words!

It seems you're suffering the reverse of the pain that people go through every time they approach me and ask me, in broken English, if I speak Spanish. My reply is, "No. I live in the United States of America. I don't need to speak Spanish."

Now, I feel so guilty! I'm sure that somehow I've caused you this grief! Ack!

How is your work? We just bought a new house, and you may be happy to know that a certain conversation between four chairs is being held just to the left of our front door. Thank you for that piece of heavenly happiness.

Caribbean Colors said...

Hey Hope! Yes, I am in MENTAL pain trying to excercize this old brain. Great to hear from you. (I photographed Hope and Ken's wedding last year on Caye Caulker)

When I see my work outside of the retail area, its like visiting an old friend. That photo is one of my favorites and I'm glad it could make it to the new home.

Anonymous said...

Love the blog, makes me laugh uncontrollably every morn!!!

Hope said...

Walking out my door every morning, be it for a run, for work, for a trip to get more coffee, is better when I can see that photo hanging there by the door.

On our second date, Ken asked me if I wanted to go to Belize with him for ten days "in a couple of weeks". We joke that a ten-day trip to Central America was our third date. We stayed at Trends while we were on Caye Caulker. We, of course, sat in the chairs out front.

That picture will always be, to me, a photo of the first time I knew that I loved this man I married. Only more perfect that we were able to get you to photograph our wedding on Caulker two years later.

Ruthibelle said...

great post.. cant imagine being in that situation. But, you're learning... so no worries, right?

Anonymous said...

I give you so much credit! You are really brave. Learning a new language at our advance ages is not easy. You can learn, you just learn slower. Keep up the good posting! Love, MB

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Guyana-Gyal said...

I love it when I make mistakes speaking a foreign language and people laugh with me. It breaks the ice and they try to help.

I make comical faces, say Aiyyyyeee, so they know I'm struggling to find the right word.

When people look worried, I feel 'stupidy' baaaad.

WizzyTheStick said...

STumbled on your blog via Gyana-Gyal. Glad I landed here - you're too funny! My experience has been that English speakers are a lot more tolerant of folks who try to speak English than the other way around. I could be wrong but I know I am usually relieved when someone makes an attempt to speak English. It matters not to me that they may butcher the language. I'm just happy it's not my head tangling up with verb agreement and adjective placement.

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