As anyone who has attempted to learn a foreign language will attest, the competent speaking of another tongue has many nuances and can take years to master. Some people are naturally gifted in the area of learning and speaking a language other than their own and some are not. My wife is not one of these people. It’s not that she is trying to be mocking or cruel when attempting to speak an unfamiliar language, she genuinely believes that she is being accommodating and polite, she just isn’t at all good at it. To listen to her butcher attempts at the simplest greetings or salutations is to hear something akin to what you might witness on one of those cop shows featuring severely inebriated folks trying to explain to the police when asked for their identification that they always speak like they have a fist sized wad of plumbers putty in their mouths. When on occasion alcohol is added to the scenario it becomes a comic spectacle of shouted mis-pronunciations and hastily created words and phrases combining two or more languages that invariably leaves the subject of her communication attempts desperately searching for an exit, and anyone else observing either choking with laughter or cringing in embarrassment. Such was the case on a late night stop at a well-known road side chain restaurant on our recent trip to California.
Being stuck in the car for nearly twelve hours with our two teenage boys, when we sat down to order she wasted no time in getting the bartender busy in providing a few tasty beverages to take the edge off. About half way through the meal, her edge now very much dulled, it dawned on her that our waiter was of Hispanic decent and in the interests of being polite decided that it was her obligation to communicate with him in Spanish. That she doesn’t speak Spanish other than a phrase or two she has picked up by overhearing a few episodes of The George Lopez Show when the kids are watching, and undeterred by the fact that up until this point our waiter had been speaking perfectly serviceable English and as far as we know had never been in a Latin American country, she launched into her best approximation of casual Spanish conversation. “Buenos Dias!” she loudly and cheerfully answered the waiter when he inquired if we would like some more water. “Good evening” he subtly corrected her while filling the glasses. Wracking her brain for something along the lines of “how are you”, the best she could do was to grinningly exclaim “Hola amigo!” “Hello to you” he volleyed after a pregnant pause . “Can I bring you anything else?” he said in impeccable English. To most this lack of even a mildly recognizable regional accent would indicate that he probably had as limited a knowledge of Spanish as she did but somehow this realization was not forthcoming and she pressed onward. The rum and cokes now performing fully as intended, she blurted out a slurred inquiry that came out near as I can remember as “Come slay my Llama?” After another long pause I heard our waiter answer, “My name is Steve and I am from Canada so could you please stop speaking to me in Mexican. Now…can I get you anything else?” Our two boys, until now content to occupy themselves with their food and their I-pods, looked at each other in horror and departed for the car. As anyone who has been married to the same person for a lengthy period of time will confirm, a spouse can often know what the other is going to say before the thought has even formed in their mates head. Anticipating an embarrassing attempt to order another beverage in broken Spanglish with maybe an “eh” or an “aboot” tossed in for good measure, I cut in and performed a preemptive disengagement by saying “No thank you. Just the bill please”. “Quanto questo!” she chimed in half heartedly, not yet willing to concede the point that Steve was indeed from the other country to share a border with us. Observing that we had some uneaten food still on our plates, she searched her very limited Spanish data base one last time to request a doggie bag of some sort and in a final flourish loud enough for those in the kitchen to hear shouted in homage to the Spanish and Canadian languages, “Andale’…….BOX!!” before dissolving into a fit of rum fueled giggles. I smiled at him and shrugged my shoulders as he dropped the tab on the table, silently grateful that this incident hadn’t occurred in a less genteel establishment than a roadside chain restaurant. As soon as he disappeared from view I paid up and hurried my wife out of the restaurant and back to the car, leaving double the usual tip for exemplary service. Placing her in the passenger seat, by the time I rounded the front of the car and climbed into the drivers side she was fast asleep and wearing a satisfied smile. The kids had reconnected to their I-pods and for all intents and purposes became invisible. Pulling back onto the interstate, I turned the radio dial to a local country/western station and listening to the whine of tires on blacktop and everyday tales of trials and tribulation, pressed on.