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Monday, February 23, 2009

Non-Sequiturs in Spanish

We made it finally to San Luis Potosi, but as we get further into Mexico, I get less interested in blogging about it, and more interested in trying to speak the language fluently. To date, our travels have taken us to Monterrey, Real de Catorce and now to San Luis Potosi (there is an accent mark over the i of Potosi, but heck if I know the keycode for it on this computer). Everyday is emotionally exhausting--speaking in Spanish "es muy dificil" and depending on who Ben and I are talking to, it can be fairly easy, or incredibly hard. Most conversations I start off with "Hola. Lo siento, pero no hablo espanol muy bien." or "Buenas dias. Lo siento, pero mi espanol es asi-asi." which translate to: "Hello, I'm sorry, but I don't speak Spanish very well." or "Good morning. I'm sorry, but my Spanish is so-so." I become incredibly shy when talking to people in Spanish and usually break out into a cold sweat when in a situation where I feel pressured to talk. I cannot think of any other activity more intellectually, emotionally and physically exhaustive than speaking in a language in which one is not fluent.

So hilarity always ensues when I'm talking in Spanish. The last time I had a non sequitur moment, Ben and I were in El Museo del Palacio, originally the Government Palace, where the state congress met in Monterrey. One of the docents took a liking to us, I think because a lot of folks get a kick out of chatting up gringos in the same way that Americans can't get enough of foreigners' accents. He starts talking to us, in fairly difficult Spanish about the neoclassical style of the congress' auditorium "y los otros estilos diferentes" present in the room--the gold leaf on the ceiling, the "mascaras," the masks, located at the corners of ceiling panels, the type of tiling used throughout the building, the original wood dias, the bullet holes in two of the front seats, and so on.

Ok. Repaired bullet holes in the chairs, I can dig that. The auditorium is beautiful. And then all of a sudden, he is asking me, I think, about the Native Americans of the United States. Que, senor? I try to explain, in broken Spanish that there were hundreds of tribes in the United States before most of them were wiped out by colonists and the American government. I am saying that this is unlike in Mexico, where there is a greater focus on the macro-cultures of the Mayan or Aztec people. But, I say, the one thing that all the Native Americans of the United States have in common is that the United States tried to kill all of them. Hilarious, right? The United States! What a cruel, colonizing bully of a nation! Hahaha, or jajaja, as they write in Spanish.

Good conversation, right? Sigh.

Last night, I told our host, Aldo, in Spanish, about two of the most distinct memories I have from when my paternal grandmother died: the memory of aseptically packaged cow tongue sitting for weeks afterward in our refrigerator and eating beef fajitas for the first time the night of the funeral. His family owns a carneceria (a butcher's shop) and we were talking about eating menudo (a soup with cow stomach in it that Ben nonchalantly ordered yesterday at a Sunday market for lunch in Cedral) ad other unusual meats. Presumably, cow tongue tacos taste good. I can't report yet on the tongue tacos, but menudo is definitely an acquired taste.

In short... or perhaps more accurately, in other words, talking in Spanish is like playing a dadaist word game. Nothing makes sense, including the ridiculous things that you come up with to talk about, because in the end, we speak Spanish like babies with big heads.


bikermom said...

Ben and Jen - it is so good to hear your voice you must send your ip address

mharlow said...

Jen and Ben I have many students that feel the same way about speaking English and I know they will appricate your efforts and understanding. Your comments are very real and help me to better understand my English as a second language speakers.

Anonymous said...

My best friend in rural Puebla tells me he thinks I learned Spanish from the Apaches. This is a double joke, because historically the Apaches spoke fluent Spanish.


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