August 20, 2014

Hola, Mexico! Parte Dos: Talking to Locals

One of many reasons I was excited to come to Mexico was to put my countless hours of Spanish classes and thousands of dollars spent on a degree to good use. I had a positive experience with my language skills in Spain two years ago, and I was hoping for the same here, although my degree is two years dustier. Sure, I can't roll an "R" or conjugate vosotros verbs, but here I am. Thankfully Mexicans don't use the vosotros tense, but there are too many Rs for me to sound native. Blonde hair doesn't help either.
Robbie in Spanish

It took a few days for the cobwebs to dwindle, but soon I felt mostly comfortable being surrounded by Spanish. I can understand most of what's said to me, and I can understand most of the words flying out of my beak. Most locals have been friendly, receptive, and patient, and everyone at the corner coffee shop knows my name. They call me "Roberto" because "Robbie" turned into a two-minute conversation for the barista to write "Robbin," but I'll take it.

But getting a little too confident with my American Spanish skills, I was jarred by a run in with a torta restaurant owner. I had been a few times, my orders in Spanish went well enough. Then my hen friend TJ, who is a regular amigo at this torta place, wanted my help in telling the owner that we could get him Hens on Ice tickets. I gladly agreed, since I like TJ and tortas. But as I fumbled through my words and realized I couldn't remember the word for "show," the man just stared at me blankly. I tried using "Hens on Ice" as the Spanish word for "show." Surely, he'd heard of such a spectacular show! But it seemed like he didn't. After one more try, one of the women working there hollered "Hens on Ice" in a Spanish accent. A lightbulb went off for torta man.

TJ loves tortas.
Now that we seemingly understood each other, I asked him again if he'd like to see Hens on Ice.

"I don't understand." He said to me in English. I guessed and hoped he was joking, so I chuckled awkwardly. But torta man wasn't laughing. "I don't understand you," he repeated. "I don't know if you're speaking to me in English, Spanish, or Portuguese."

I laughed again uncomfortably to myself because I didn't know any other way to react. But torta man's face remained deadpan, so humiliation kicked in. 

At this point, I wanted to yell, "Fine! Fuck your tickets!" and rant about how I had a Spanish degree and the best professors in the world. But thankfully I just clucked, "OKAY!", threw my wings up, and started to walk away in a huff. 

I waited by the door as our hen friend David sorted out the matter in Spanish or Portuguese. I don't know if the man and his family actually saw the show, but insults and embarrassment aside, his restaurant makes a mean torta (sandwich).

Keep Reading! "Hola, Mexico! Parte Uno."

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