Thursday, June 16, 2011

Why I Don't Speak Spanish

A few days ago Husband and I ate at the local Mexican eatery, where, oh my goodness, the chips and salsa would be a complete meal unto themselves except that they're followed by a complete meal of steaming deliciousness.

We arrived before the rush and a new waitress was obviously nervous about taking our order. One of the "old" guys encouraged her, and because I spent a fairly large chunk of my early adulthood in Central America, I knew what was going on.

"No hablas ingles?" I asked her delightedly, because nothing makes me happier than the chance to speak some espanol. I love, love, love to speak Spanish but I rarely break out the rolled r's and fancy conjugations unless I'm absolutely certain my Spanish is better than the English of the person I'm talking with. I trace this reluctance to an incident during my first few weeks in Costa Rica.

I hadn't been in country long but I'd had a couple years of high school Spanish, and I was feeling fairly confident about my abilities when I strolled into the stationery store. I needed some airmail paper and this was a church-run business, so surely the clerks would have patience with my primitive communication skills.

I know! I'd explain I didn't speak Spanish, and that I was embarrassed about my ignorance, and that way no one would think I was stupid. I approached the manager, who was smiling in welcome.

"Buenos dias, padre," I told him. "Estoy embarazada porque no hablo espanol."

The smile disappeared from the manager's face. His eyes widened, and he stammered something I didn't understand as he hurried away. I was puzzled but I bought my paper using the point and shout method, shaking my head at the manager's odd reaction.

As it turns out, "embarrassed" is not one of those easy adjectives, such as perfecto and interesante, that slide back and forth with ease between English and Spanish. It wasn't until weeks later that I discovered I told a priest I was PREGNANT because I didn't speak Spanish.Even now, 30 years later, I squirm with verguenza as I look back on the incident.

It was fun to speak Spanish in the restaurant, but you can bet I didn't tell the waitress I was embarrassed by my accent. I don't need that kind of reputation around town.

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