Communication Problems

Today is one of those days when I don’t manage to speak Spanish AT ALL. Some days, I am doing just fine, but some days, I can’t think of a single word, my tongue gets all twisted, and my head is filled with English, German and French vocabulary, but not one useful Spanish phrase. Believe me, those are frustrating days! BUT there is always the chance that it might turn into a hilarious day as well, that’s the upside!

Like the first time we got here for my husband’s interview. When I went to school, I used to speak Spanish quite well, but years had passed without speaking the language at all and of course, I had gotten a little rusty. So when I wanted to order a still water, my twisted brain came up with the French “eau plate”, and enthusiastically, I ordered “agua plata” – silver water. The very polite waitress nodded, went away and brought me sparkling water with a very posh silver label. That’s when I realized my mistake and couldn’t stop laughing. (By the way, I NEVER had a problem ordering wine, it seems there is a universal wine language – at least in my head.)

After we had moved into our new house, I decided it was time to plant some basil, as we hardly ever get that in the supermarket, and I wanted to make some pesto. Off to the garden center I went and grabbed three pots of basil (albahacar). The friendly garden center guy looked at me suspiciously, asking me what I wanted to do with so much albahacar, and I took it upon me to explain to him the making of pesto. So I told him he needed basil, olive oil, garlic, parmesan – and then I got stuck. What the hell are pine nuts? Well, since it is “pine nuts” in English, I decided to go for “nueces de pina” – pineapple nuts. Not aware of my mistake, I felt very proud for even being able to share recipes in Spanish. It wasn’t until I was already on my way home that I realized what I had said and I pictured that poor guy climbing the palm trees searching for pineapple nuts.

But before I left, we continued our animated conversation in that he constantly said: “Hierbabuena. Hierbabuena.” I thought he meant that basil was a good herb, so I nodded and said “Si, si!”, but when he wouldn’t stop I decided that this poor guy clearly had a slight problem for being so enthusiastic about basil. Well, I didn’t know that here, they call mint, which I know as “menta“, “hierbabuena“. And hierbabuena plays a very important role in the Yucatan cuisine.

And sometimes, I get confused with the little everyday words. Like when I went to the carwash. I happened to know they had a valet service, so you can just drop off your car and pick it up all shiny and clean after half an hour. Not many people do that, because it costs an extra 10 Pesos, so the lady at the carwash didn’t offer it to me at first. Instead I had to ask for it, and I phrased my question like that: “Podria llevar mi coche?” She seemed confused so I repeated my question a couple of times, until she laughed and said: “Dejar!” No wonder, the poor lady mistook me as a mental institution resident: I had asked her whether I could WEAR my car.

And of course, there are a lot of words that differ from Castellano (the “Spanish Spanish”). So when I asked someone for a billete, which means “ticket” in Castellano, they looked at me with a blank expression: Here, billete means “banknote” and a “ticket” is “boleto”. So without knowing it, I had begged for money at a ticket counter!

So, well, here we are, fighting our little language battle day after day – and laughing our …bum off!

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One thought on “Communication Problems

  1. Pingback: Language Mishaps (or: How I turned my brother into a smurf) | Expatially Mexico

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