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Spanish Language Blunders April 2009

Spanish Language Blunders
by Katrina Tinoco, co-owner of La Vendimia Restaurant

After living in Ensenada for the past 23 years, one would think that one would have an extensive command of the Spanish language . . . well one would be dead wrong! Oh, the blunders I have made, and still do on a daily basis—or so my three wonderfully bilingual kids keep reminding me (darn show-offs). I also have the double impediment of being British and have to admit to having a few problems when communicating with my American friends over the years too. Yes, I have asked people to knock me up at a certain time in order not to be late, or to lift up my bonnet and check out my spark plugs—or even worse, when some one mentioned his dictaphone, I wanted to know why he couldn't use his finger like everyone else.

Of course, when I sailed into Ensenada on a cruise ship, I never dreamed that I would make my home here, so I began to learn Spanish by using the inevitable good old phrase book and set out to converse with the locals.

"The pen of my aunt . . . What time is the next train? Where do I find the nearest YMCA?" Meanwhile there were a group of Mexicans thinking, "What is with this woman? Where is her aunt and why does she need that particular pen? Oh . . . Now she is waiting for a train . . . in Ensenada? This one is really good—she wants us to break into song like the village people . . . YMCA . . . la la la la crazy gringa . . . with a very strange gringa accent."

After kicking the phrase book idea into touch, I decided that my best bet to learn the language was to marry a Mexican. Granted, I could have bought the Berlitz course or the Rosetta Stone DVDs, but, being basically lazy, I thought the immersion method (Mexican by Injection) would best suit my needs. This idea has not really worked out either as my husband only ever speaks to me in English as do my kids (unless they want to bring their friends around for a good laugh at my expense).

Sometimes mispronunciation can work to your advantage, as I learned one time when stopped by a young motorcycle cop here in Ensenada. I was driving in the middle of town and I promise the light was green when I passed through the intersection, but I had to stop whilst a flock of dawdling teenagers were crossing in front of me (Have you noticed how no one here walks at a brisk pace when crossing the road?). Not being able to reverse as there was a car behind me, I had no choice but to run the red light. So the cop pulls me over and I explained, in Spanish, that the light was green, but in order not to mow down a herd of pedestrians, I was forced to stop, etc. He promptly doubled over and with tears of laughter told me to go away. Later I told my husband what had happened and that I had proudly used the word pedestrians—"pedones." The word is actually "peatones"; therefore, I had told the cop that a load of slow farts made me run the red light. I was really quite embarrassed until I realized that it got me out of a traffic ticket!

Reversing the situation, English can be pretty daunting for the Mexicans too; even the most proficient speakers can get lost in translation, especially if the word sounds similar in both languages. Not so long ago I was introduced to a very esteemed doctor and when I went to shake his hand, he told me, in English, not to touch him because he was constipated. Well, I thought it a little too much information on our first meeting and what does being constipated have to do with hand shaking. Uh, maybe a new medical breakthrough . . . or maybe he is hinting that I should offer him some prunes. After some investigation, I discovered that the word "constipado" in Spanish means to have one's nose blocked, usually due to the common cold.

So to anyone who is battling to learn Spanish, or think they should know more than they do, or feel like an idiot every time they make a mistake, join the club and blame it all on being a constipated slow fart!

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