I’ve always prided myself on the ability to rummage through the dusty attic that is my mind to scare up just enough of the Spanish language to navigate through the Americas.
In North America, I use it to “talk” to my amigos in the la cocina, which often leads to my getting to try some amazing home cooked meals even while at work in a restaurant. We are talking about family recipes, here. Grandma’s Grandma’s recipe. You don’t measure. You don’t write it down. You pass it on through the years and eat it like a good story. It’s history. And you sure as hell can’t get flavors like these at your local Taco Bell. Or at a taqueria in the Mission District of San Francisco, for that matter. People who eat the real deal don’t wear skinny jeans.
I think they feel sorry for me and my sad attempts at the language, and the fact that I’m half latin, I’m like a culture orphan, but I don’t mind. This Gringo gets fed.
In Central America, I’ve managed to get to the hospital in the middle of the night after a stubborn taxi door finally came sliding shut on my fingers. My Spanish got me to and from, and my respect for Costa Rican healthcare knows no bounds.
*Taxi Door slams shut*
Amber: What’s wrong? Babe?!
Me: Aaaaaaargh!!! My mano!! Mi hand!!! Open the DOOR!! Aaaaabeirto!!!
Amber: (Opening the door.) There! You okay?
Me: (Blood shooting out of my fingers) Aaaargh. Oh my god that hurt. (To the hotel staff.) Donde el hospital? El doctor?
I spent the next 10 minutes with my hand filling a Champagne bucket of ice full of blood, and the following 30 minutes with an actual Doctor cleaning and stitching me up with the same care I would expect if we were family. It was almost worth the smashed fingers just to witness healthcare that actually is about health and care. Almost.
What I found out (in what is now known as my wife’s least favorite traveling memory,) is that if adrenaline is supposed to allow you to do Super-heroic things, like the mother who jumps a 15 foot fence to save her child from a rattlesnake, or the Father who lifts a Yugo off his child’s leg, or the Second Cousin… well. You get it. Anyway, my super power is not speaking Spanish. (Why is that damn kid always in trouble?)
In South America, I had a whole different type of problem. Here, it hasn’t been my limited vocabulary, conjugation, or lack of reflexives. It’s not Spanish. I’m serious. Well, it’s not the Spanish that my wig wearing, dress made of old curtains, “I’m allergic to soap” so I smell like mothballs, Spanish 2 teacher Mrs. B, taught me to speak, so many years ago.
I mean, I know how to order food. I know take-out. Trust me. I don’t miss meals when it comes to Latin food. Sure, I can’t remember left from right, Calle from Avenida, or how to say “street block.” (Just ask my wife, when we get lost. She loves my Spanish then. Where is the sarcasm font on this thing?)
Pero el alimento, lo sé. (But food, I know.)
Well, I thought I did until I tried to get something “To Go.”
*In a restaurant in Buenos Aires.*
Me: … y para llevar.
Argentine Waiter: Que?
Me: “Para llevar. Para llevar? Comida para llevar?”
AW: “Llevar?” No se.
Me: (I just look at him with a crinkled forehead and not much going on behind it.)
AW: Oooh… si. ‘SCHevar.’ Es bueno.” (Taking my order.)
Me: Wait. Lo siento. “SHHe…var? SHHe, var?” Es correcto?
AW: Si. Bueno.
(I slap my hand to my head.)
So now, “LL” is pronounced “SH!” Not to mention the pronunciation all sounds like italian, of which I know ZILCH.
Cry for me Argentina. Cry.