Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Pinche Guero

Liam Pooping in Mexico - Christmas 2010
Before Erin and I had kids we had pretty ambitious plans concerning how we'd raise them.  We were going to only use cloth diapers, we would insist they eat only what we were eating, and while their young minds were sponges for acquiring new languages, they'd be learning Spanish.  I think both Erin and I are hoping the other forgot about the diaper thing, we got pretty close with the food thing (we just had it reversed), and there's still time for them to be bilingual, but unfortunately that's not looking good.

Their best hope is a "Spanish Language Immersion School" and there are some very fine ones in the Healdsburg area, but I think that route is most successful when paired with some at-home Spanish speaking, and that's the problem.  While I work at a winery where 9 out of 10 people speak Spanish as a first language, my brain apparently isn't quite the sponge it once was.  It's more like a wet napkin.  This was evidenced by my attempts to use Spanish more over the past couple of months.  I've been understanding quite a bit (I'm proud to say) so I figured, for the benefit of my sons' ripe and ready minds, it was time I started holding up my end of el conversacion, much to the dismay of my colleagues.

Everyone at work is very kind, but the looks they give me are telling.  It usually starts with a puzzled "I beg your pardon?" kind of look before snapping into an "Oh, you're trying to speak Spanish to me because my English is only 1000 times better than your Spanish.  How lovely.  Well I guess it's a good thing we're not too busy," look.  You know that one.

My work related phrases are pretty solid.  Things like "can you come to the lab please" and "can I get a measurement from tank number so and so" roll off my tongue easily enough, though I do have a bad habit of saying them like a Telemundo announcer.

Things get really problematic when I try to get conversational.

     "How's it going Miguel?", I'm asked

     "Nothing", I answer.  "I am well but I am tired because I have the children"

Parents taking care of five kids and working two jobs love hearing stuff like that from me.

Generally the effect is just annoying but occasionally I do some real damage.  Like last Wednesday a woman who's worked on the bottling line since she was sixteen asked me "How many bottles you want?"  I could have just answered with a number, but numbers aren't difficult until you get into the thousands.  I wanted to use a verb.  I knew "I need" but that seemed a bit rude so I went with "You know Bertrand Russell once said 'The only thing that will redeem mankind is cooperation' so I'm grateful for your inquiry.  I believe retaining TWO bottles for my aforementioned organoleptic evaluation will suffice.  Thank you so much."  Unfortunately, I got so distracted trying to come up with the right Spanish words I failed to achieve the most fundamental goal in responding to a question:  to give the correct answer.  I'd actually needed THREE.  Of course I didn't realize this until much later when the extra bottle I'd needed had already been boxed, wrapped, logged, paletted, and stacked from floor to eighty-foot ceiling.  The warehouse crew was not pleased.

I took full responsibility for this (in English) but evidentally my confession didn't make it to the misinformed victim of my crappy Spanish who had initially received the blame.  She stormed into my supervisor's office but didn't close the door because I obviously wasn't going to understand a word she was going to say.  But AH!  I understood quite a bit (I'm proud to say).  There's a lot you can pick up from context and tone.

I took advantage of the length of her diatribe to try and piece together a nice explanation (in Spanish) but all I could come up with was something like "I said to him you put many bottles there because I am very incorrect."  That wasn't really cutting it.  Plus I probably would have swapped some pronouns or something and ended up blaming her instead of myself.  The one thing I felt very confident I could say was "I'm sorry".  Not only could I say it correctly but I knew I could deliver it steeped in just enough sincerity and humility that all would be forgiven.

"Hey Lupita", I said bowing to her ever so slightly, "lo siento"

"Ophelia", she answered.

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