Tuesday, May 5, 2009
Cinco de Mayo
Hola! Hoy es Cinco de Mayo. No es una dia muy importante por los Mexicanos, pero es una dia mucho importante por los Norteamericanos a beber la tequila. Y la cerveza. Pero mas importante? La tequila.
Me gusto mucho la tequila.
Ok, here's the thing: don't jump all over me for my ridiculous butchering of the Spanish language. It is, as they say, limited by disuse. There's a very good reason my use has been limited. Like to hear about it? I thought you might.
All those many years ago when I lived in Texas I had a job which required me to communicate on a daily basis with Spanish speaking Mexicans. I dealt with one gentleman in particular very regularly. He always communicated with very broken and labored English.
One day I thought to myself (I thought), "I speak Spanish very well! Why am I making him struggle with his English when we could be communicating so easily in Spanish?" I thought this, you see, because I had taken four years of high school Spanish and three years of college Spanish. I'd always gotten pretty easy 'A's' and my teachers had always complimented me on both my speaking and writing . Yepperdee, I was one confident communicator.
Folks, if I could remember what I said to him that day, I would tell you, but I can't. It was a long time ago, for one thing, and for another, what happened next is such a vivid memory that it easily supercedes whatever inconsequential words I uttered to inspire it.
What happened, after I made an earnest effort to speak to him in his native tongue was: he laughed. He didn't just laughed. He LAUGHED!!! Not lol or LOL, but ROTFLMAO!!!!! He doubled over, holding his belly with both hands. He wiped away a tear and laughed some more.
I stood there, confused, trying to figure out what I'd said or done that was so funny. "What? Que? What?" His only response was more laughter. When he came up for air, I asked, in English, "What is so funny?"
"What you say!"
"What I said was funny?"
"Si" he answered, barely managing to stifle another giggle fit.
"What did I say that was so funny? I want to know so that I can correct it."
He paused for a moment and clearly considered his answer. "I think it was no so much what you say. It was how you say. Here, people say Spanish bad with Texas accent. This I hear. I never hear no one say Spanish bad with Yankee accent before. You sound so funny!" He let out one more giggle, but this one was more controlled. "Sorry for laughing." he added. I watched him mocking my pronunciation and shaking his head as he walked away.
That, my friends, was the very last time I attemped to speak Spanish. My confidence was shot all to hell. So was my desire to make things easier for him. He wants to laugh? He can struggle with his damn English. You won't catch me making an effort again.
Years later, when I was teaching ESOL, I retold this story many times.
I learned a lesson that day. Respect the effort. If he had gently corrected my word choice or my pronunciation - even if he'd chuckled a little when he did it - I would have learned and possibly even improved. We could have learned together. As it was? I gave up. I didn't need to be laughed at and I'd be damned if I was going to set myself up for that again.
We both lost out that day.
So I guess I'm just saying, appreciate the effort.
Y tambien? Una tequila mas, por favor.