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.

Comprende?

Y tambien? Una tequila mas, por favor.


17 comments:

Housewife Savant said...

You and I can speak bad Spanish together. I'll delight at your Texas drawl, if you'll perdóneme for interrupting and talking over you (Pollack-style).

While planning for a missions trip to Mexico, Mr (Pastor) Savant taught the youth group how to order beer instead of strawberries.

Tammy Howard said...

Oh, that is beautiful!

Brandy said...

I have no idea what that first paragraph says but you better believe that I see the word tequila! WOOT!

And no worries - we can't hear an accent when you write spanish. Too bad I can't read or speak it. LOL!

Pam said...

That guy was real a jerk. I would have been tempted to have a laughing fit of my own next time he spoke to you in English!

Tammy Howard said...

Oh, Pam, that was indeed a temptation!

3 Bay B Chicks said...

Great post! I read the part in Spanish and thought, wow, my language skills must be better than I remember. I understand everything here.

I have to admit that I was a bit sad to read that the guy you were trying to talk to laughed at your efforts. I guess my Spanish isn't as good as I thought.

Laughing at myself now! :)

-Francesca

Anita said...

bebas las tequila por favor......let me butcher that some more for you........I took 2 years in college and I can order beer, ask for the bathroom and curse you out! Honestly I could read the fist paragraph, but not write it.
We live in FL, here it's the Cubans and Puerto (sp) Ricans that we see most. I love diversity!!, but I don't communicate well.

Tammy Howard said...

When I taught ESOL I learned that the first thing people want to learn/teach in another language is how to curse someone out! I had to tell so many students that what they were saying was inappropriate and they were stunned - "the guys at work said..."

I think the paragraph I wrote wasn't technically horrible. Just probably very amateurish. I think it was basically understandable.

Alex the Girl said...

My mom's parents divorced when she was a young girl. Her father remarried and moved to Mexico City. She lived one year with him, and said that the Mexican children were utterly brutal in their treatment of the "gringo." It's strange though, how the two societies mirror the other. I wonder, and have seen how children here treat ESL students, how similar are the egos of each country. We have a huge population of immigrant workers, legal and illegal, and many times I can hear the mocking snickers from both Americans and Mexicans. Odd, huh?

By the way, this was an incredible tangent that had nothing to do with your experience. I'm having one of those days. Sorry!

Tammy Howard said...

Well, you've opened a whole 'nuther can of worms here, Alex - and one worth pursuing. Perhaps we could work on a joint post/project - I have some thoughts (though certainly inconclusive ones) on what you've brought up... I could do a whole series, actually, but I don't know if the interest would be there...

Tammy Howard said...

conclusive - not inclusive - now who's having one of those days?

Gibby said...

"Me gusto mucho la tequila?"
Yo, tambien!

I have no idea if that is right, because it has been a long time since I cracked open the spanish book as well. But you get my drift.

I think it stinks that he laughed at you. Why didn't you laugh back at him when he tried to speak English back at you? OK, you don't have to be mean like me!

Tammy Howard said...

- full disclosure: I never laughed back, because that would have been unprofessional. But I did cock my head to the side a lot and say things like, "I'm sorry, I didn't quite get that. Try to speak more clearly, could you?"

A meanie would've laughed.

A bitch would've - well - I guess I just told you what a bitch would've done...

Sir Hook of Warrick aka "David K Wells" said...

Smile and the whole world smiles with you! Of course, he should have appreciated the effort you made!

To get a laugh at someone trying to be Spanish, check out today's blog on knightsmsa.blogspot.com for a Cinco de Mayo dance between me and my wife!

Si, mi cervaza as muy frio! Y tambien, con mucho gusto la teguilla!

Adios!

Sir Hook the Don of Warrick

Mrs. Jelly Belly said...

Well, I was able to figure out the first paragraph, which is pretty good considering the only thing I remember how to say (or would ever need to say) is "Dos Coronas, por favor."

I used to know how to ask where the bathroom is, but now I'd just have to mutter, while emphasizing the words "donde" and "bano" and hope they get the point.

PS - that guy was an ass. And I won't even say the name of a Mexican restaurant in front of my Mexican BIL because he will give me the business FOREVER about my pronunciation.

Alex the Girl said...

Ms. Tammy,

We could probably open a library and expand it not only in ethnic diversity, but educational, sports related, diet, on and on and on and on. We could start a franchise.

I'll be the first to admit it, I am a subject verb agreement snob.

We is educated.

mama-face said...

My daughter was in a "spanish immersion" program 1st through 6th grade. I think highly of the program as far making them work harder and thus helping them become more proficient in a lot of areas. She also took all the Spanish classes possible in H.S. 9 years of Spanish. She graduates in 3 weeks and I can count on one hand the amount of times I've heard her speak Spanish. I just hope she'll be able to pull it out the hat in a job interview, something, anything!

But, I love Cinco De Mayo because it's my oldest boy's birthday! 22 today!