Sunday, February 24, 2008

Silly Gringa

When I realized that I was going to have to learn some Spanish to get along here, I was partly excited that I’d learn something new, partly scared that it would be hard, and partly just resigned that I’d either learn it or I wouldn’t, and that would be that. I expected that it would be a little difficult and a little fun, but I had no idea it would be as funny as it’s turned out to be. It’s funny partly because of the mistakes I make, like mixing up peeing and baking, but the other funny part is how our Spanish speaking friends handle us and help us.

Of the families next door, the only household where neither of the parents speak English is Julian and Marta (Marta Dos). However, all of their kids are more or less fluent in English, so when we talk to them we usually have one of the kids around who will translate as we speak. What’s funny is that as we’ve learned more and more Spanish, more and more of the conversation happens in Spanish – and if we say something in English the translating kid will say it to the parent in Spanish, and if we say it in Spanish, the translating kid will just repeat what we said, usually word for word. I’m not sure if they even know they’re doing it, but it usually gets me laughing, and Marta Dos has the best laugh and it doesn’t take much to get her going, so by the time we’re five minutes into a conversation Marta Dos and I are usually laughing hysterically, and Rosa, Ofelia, or Iris is usually completely perplexed about what we think is so funny.

Yesterday little three-year-old Zulmi had me laughing. We’ve found that the little preschoolers are some of the best teachers, so while Tom was talking to Marta and Julian, I was playing with Zulmi and talking to her. She had a little plastic dog doll which she was pushing around in a little plastic wheelbarrow, and I just recently learned that the Spanish word for wheelbarrow is “carreta.” So, I pointed to the wheelbarrow and said to Zulmi, “Esta carreta?” She looked at the wheelbarrow, looked at me, picked up the wheelbarrow in one hand, pointed to it with the other, and looked me right in the eye as she very clearly and slowly said in completely un-Spanish-accented English “w-h-e-e-l-b-a-r-r-o-w.” I repeated “wheelbarrow” back to her, and she very solemnly nodded. She then picked up the little plastic dog, pointed to that, and again very clearly and slowly said “c-h-u-c-h-o,” which is the local Spanish word for dog. I repeated that back to her, she nodded again as the silly gringa proved to be a good student, and then she went on with pushing the dog around in the wheelbarrow, or the chucho in the carreta, or vice versa…whatever mix of languages we’re learning that day!

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