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Cornelius News

Speaking like a native is overrated

MODERN DAD | By Jon Show

March 8. The Mother of Dragons and I go on vacation every year or so without the children. We save up credit card, hotel and airline points and usually find a really cool hotel somewhere that is so nice we can’t afford the drinks in the bar.

Our first big trip was to Mexico. The second was Spain. Both were prior to kids. We went to Puerto Rico a few years ago. We visited the Keys last year but seem to end up in Spanish-speaking places quite often. It’s not intentional, but it just seems to happen.

Because of this I’m fortunate enough to have a front row seat to witness the Mother of Dragons and her attempts to assimilate into local culture.

You know how when you argue with your spouse and they say things like, “I don’t think I did that, do you have any examples?” But you can’t think of a single example? Well, strap in. I got lots on this one.

First of all, I’ll offer the disclaimer that she is very, very good at many, many things. But navigating a foreign language ain’t one of them.

The Blessing

First you must know that increased volume and slowed, exaggerated speech is a hallmark of her foreign language communication. Not unlike Uncle Lewis in Christmas Vacation, pointing at his mouth and imploring Aunt Bethany at the dinner table: “THEY WANT YOU TO SAY … THE BLESSING.”

Well, all those many years ago when we landed at the Barcelona airport after a redeye connection through Philadelphia, we collected our luggage proceeded through customs and hailed a taxi.

We got into the taxi, pronounced taxi in Spanish, and the driver asked us where we were going. We were going to a place called Hotel Arts, but it’s pronounced more like “O-tell Arz” in Spanish.

Driver: “Donde esta?”

Wife (loud): “Uh, uh, HOOOOOTEL ARRRRRTS.”

Driver: “O-tell Arz?”

Wife (louder and now holding out her English-language itinerary): “Uh, no HOOOOOOTELLLLL ARRRRRTS.”

Driver (very slowly): “Si, si, Hotel Arts.”

Wife: “Jess”

Only she didn’t call him Jess. She said yes in English with a Spanish accent. “Jess.” It was a highlight of my life.

Sometimes she freestyles and uses entirely different languages. Shortly after that Barcelona trip she went to Paris for work, where she entered a bistro one morning for a croissant, and promptly thanked the Parisian by saying thank you in Spanish, but with a Catalan/Barcelona accent: “Grathiath.”

Pura Vida

This past month, we completed our most recent trip, which we took to Costa Rica, where to my great delight they also speak Spanish. I don’t know what happened but she went off her rocker in ways I’ve never seen. Like a person on valium except she was sober.

We took a shuttle to our rental car place and chatted up our driver, whose name I can’t remember but I do remember the Mother of Dragons asking him if he’d lived there his whole life, as if we were in a shuttle in Albany being driven by Costa Rican.

When we arrived at the rental car facility, which wasn’t exactly in the nicest part of Costa Rica, she pulled out our wad of foreign currency and fanned it out in the middle of the lobby to show me its colorful beauty. I implored her to put the 78,000 colones ($150) back in her purse.

She harumphed and wandered over to the water bottle filling station, pulled out her water bottle, pressed the fill button and said, “Ohhh aguaaaaaaa,” to no one in particular.

On the ride to the hotel she served as the navigator and told me we had to turn left in 30 kilometers, which led to a conversation about 5k races and the conversion of kilometers into miles.

Then she asked me how many kilometers were in 30k. I said 30. She corrected me and then she posed the same question. I said 30. Then I slammed on the brakes and ran off the road to avoid a stopped car in the middle of the road.

We never finished the conversation.

Language Barrier

One thing I liked about Costa Rica is that the people give you a chance to try to speak their language, unlike other places we’ve been.

In Barcelona I dragged her to a futbol game at Camp Nou to see Puyol, Xavi, Iniesta and, of course, Messi.

I was excited to break out some of the Spanish I learned as a kid, so I walked over to a scarf vendor, held up a Barcelona scart and asked how much it cost, “Hola, cuanto cuesta?”

The young man looked up and me and, in better English than most of my friends, said, “15 dollars.” My Spanish was so bad he didn’t even quote me a price in Euros.

To the young man’s credit, and to give my wife a break on this topic, my Spanish is terrible. I can only say the same two sentences I was taught as a child despite four years of grade school Spanish classes.

I arrived for my first day of Spanish in the 7th grade having been tutored by my dad, who was stationed in Puerto Rico during the Vietnam War, where, in his words, he drank, chased women and played softball for four years.

The teacher asked us if anyone in the class knew any Spanish and I proudly threw my hand in the air.

Teacher: “Hola! Que puedes decir?” (Hello! What can you say?)

Me: Tu eres muy bonita. Da me un cerveza fria por favor?” (You are very beautiful. Can I have a cold beer please?)

She was not amused and would not translate my statement for the class.

Up Next

I will give the Mother of Dragons some props. By the end of our Costa Rica trip she was rounding nicely into form with the pleasantries. Everywhere she went she tossed a cheery, “Hola, buenos dias!” to everyone, and after sundown she correctly transitioned to, “Hola, buenas noches!”

On the morning we flew home we walked on the beach and discussed destinations for our next trip. She tossed out Peru (Spanish). Going back to Puerto Rico (Spanish). I tossed out a colder weather destination like Canada since we always pick hot places.

She liked the idea of Canada so we’ll see. I hear Montreal is a cool spot.

With any luck we’ll find a French bakery so she can practice her Spanish.

Jon Show lives in Robbins Park with his wife, who he calls “The Mother of Dragons.” Their 15-year-old son is “Future Man” and their 11-year-old daughter is “The Blonde Bomber.” Their dog is actually named Lightning.