By Margie Harrell
Like most ex-pats when they first arrive at Lakeside, I decided to sign up for some Spanish lessons, fully expecting to master the language in a few short weeks and move on to something more challenging, like salsa dancing. As I began to get the hang of things I wondered what all the fuss was about. The fact that my high school French kept getting in the way was beside the point as I greeted one and all with a cheery buenos dias.
It wasn’t long before I discovered how warm and friendly the Mexican people are but their greatest asset to my way of thinking is their ability to overlook how we gringos butcher their beautiful language. Lord knows we try but the sounds in our heads don’t always come out the right way. Try rolling the double rs in perro (dog) and you will see what I mean.
Armed with my trusty travelers’ Spanish Dictionary I felt equipped to mingle with the natives. A friend had told me that the local home for the elderly was looking for volunteers and having worked in the medical profession for years, I was sure I could handle this.
Oh dear, you would have thought I had just landed from Mars. Those poor souls didn’t understand a word I was saying. A mime had nothing on me as my arms and hands flailed about. To add to this, for some reason I thought moving my eyebrows up and down in synch with my hands would help the cause. What a sight I must have looked to them.
Things got even worse when I offered to help a young girl who was sweeping the floors. I mumbled something like “Me, broom, si?” as she gave me a faint smile and retreated to a corner with eyes downcast. It seems, in one fell swoop, I had robbed her of her livelihood. My friend gently took the broom from my hand and returned it to the girl as I once again learned a valuable lesson. When in Rome, it’s always a good idea to tread lightly until you first see how the Romans do things.
Shopping was always a lesson in humility as I would ask for huevos (eggs) and say jueves (Thursday) instead. Undaunted by my many goofs I recall asking a waiter one evening for some tea (te) but instead managed to tell him I desired tu (you). He smiled, I smiled and the tea never was forthcoming.
As time went by I did manage to learn a few helpful phrases, mostly pertaining to auto repairs. Saying thump, thump, bang, bang doesn’t quite get the message across to the mechanic. Mind you, should it get too complicated, we were back to arm waving again. Aah, the universal language.
During my travels in France I learned there is only one way to speak French, their way—but not so in Mexico. You can be speaking Swahili and you will still get a friendly “Si, Señora.” Over the years I have made feeble attempts to brush up on my Español but my mind only seems to absorb so much and the rest just flows right on through. But not to worry as in my part of Paradise everyone just says “no problema” and life goes on.
Apparently after all is said and done, Español gringo-style really can work as a second language.