Tuesday, January 20, 2004

Spanish for the Masses

If there’s one thing I’ve learned in Colombia, it’s Spanish. Not the Spanish of the Foreign Service Institute (FSI), which provides my booklets for class. Through FSI, I learn scintillating sentences like, “Sanchez is sad because he didn’t prepare his lesson for today.” Throughout these books, Sanchez continually asks people if they are married, fails to prepare his lessons, and lives alone. I wonder if he is some form of Foreign Service cautionary tale. The booklets also include many conversations to translate, including my favorite: Jones walks up and down 14th Street late at night, trying to find Sanchez’s apartment. Really, an abundantly lost dweeb wanders 14th Street in Washington and does not get mugged. I love FSI-land.

All of this points to one thing: there’s really only so much Spanish you need on a day-to-day basis, and very little of it is formally taught. Sure, you need to say pleasantries (“Buenas tardes”), inform people that you do not speak their language (“No hablo español”), and apologize (“Lo siento.”) Beyond that, you need to know kinds of food (“pollo” is chicken, “lechuga” is lettuce, and “Shakira” is an artificially blond singer the size of a pimento loaf), directions (“izquierda” for left, “derecho” for right), and “Embajada de los Estados Unidos,” which most cabbies comprehend as they’ve waited in line there on many occasions.

To that end, here are the Top Five Most Useful Phrases in Colombia:
1. “Solamente estoy mirando,” I’m only looking. As I’ve mentioned before, salesclerks are really aggressive here.
2. “Un poco mas despacio, por favor," A bit slower, please. People talk FAST when they think you speak their language, and they must be smacked down to reality.
3. “Dos cervezas y un ron con Coca-Cola,” Two beers and a rum and Coke. If you can’t remember the word for something, just use a brand name. Actually, I always say Coca-Cola because the Spanish word for soda, “gaseosa,” sounds like an intestinal disorder.
4. “Donde está el baño?” an oldie but goodie. However, it’s important to know that “Hombres” means Men and “Mujeres” means Women, so you don’t walk into the door marked “M” and unzip your fly in front of a female audience. It happens, dude.
5. “No soy norteamericano. Soy de Canada.” Never underestimate the value of fictional Canadian citizenship. It deters both terrorists and street beggars.

Also, here are some phrases you will absolutely not have any use for, but are fun to know.

1. “Hay una fiesta en mis pantalones,” There’s a party in my pants.
2. “Por favor, no secuestreme. Tengo diarrea,” Please don’t kidnap me. I have diarrhea.
3. “Pareces como un tiburon cuando sonrisas,” You look like a shark when you smile.
4. “Los pollos pueden usar el Metro si pagan la cuenta,” Chickens may use the Metro if they pay the bill.
5. “Tu cabeza es mas grande de mi zapato,” Your head is bigger than my shoe.

As for personal life events, I’m living in groovy housewife style. I’ve restarted Spanish classes, which arrived just in time - I’d finished my second jigsaw puzzle in a week. The dining room table is starting to look like that scene in Citizen Kane where we see Susan Kane do 100 jigsaws from sheer boredom. I’ve also applied for a job (more on that if I get one), learned to cook non-glue white sauce, and started planning for our next party (Mardi Gras!). As for Matt, he switched over to the Consular section, where he interviews people for visas and stamps them “rejected.” The job has gotten to him and he dreams of it often. Last week, I woke to him mumbling the word “rejected” and hitting me on the head. Ouch.

Next week, tune in as I answer the question I’m most sick of hearing. Not, “Are you old enough to drink?”, but “What do you do all day?” Many, many things, some of which are interesting.

Pet Peeve of the Week: Did you ever notice that whenever a character on TV reads a magazine, they start at the back page and flip forward to the front? Seriously, watch for this. Does anyone in real life do that? The most egregious offender: “That 70's Show”.

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