That’s what I am. I almost go into a full blown panic attack when someone speaks to me with any kind of accent at all. I don’t know why this happens to me; I grew up in New York City and tutored in Fort Apache in the Bronx while I was in college. There were any number of dialects and colloquialisms to deal with and I managed to get along quite nicely.
The other day I was getting my nails done at the local salon I frequent. They are all lovely people there and the same two women have been tending me for over two years. Yet, I have no idea what they say to me when they make an attempt at small talk. Yesterday I thought my manicurist asked me if I wanted “soda” (which sounded like “shoda”) and in reality she’d asked me if I wanted my nails “shorter.” Lost in translation. I got nothing to drink and my hands rivaled Freddy Kreuger’s when I left. I was just too embarrassed to say “yes, ‘shoda’” by the time I realized what the question was.
Monday I was up and out early and didn’t have time to prepare my own initial dose of caffeine. As I was heading down the PCH, I noticed there was no one at the drive thru at McDonald’s so I thought I’d treat myself to just a large “unfancy” coffee, with two Splendas and regular milk. I thought the Great Oz at the order board had it right. It sounded right, but then again, I hadn’t had any coffee yet, so the brain wasn’t quite functioning at full throttle. Imagine my surprise when I pulled up at Window 2 and there, waiting for me, was a gigantic frozen mocha “beyond” grande, complete with whipped cream, drizzled syrup and a straw. After gesturing and using what little Spanish I could think of that would be relevant (that being pretending I was blowing on something hot because I forgot the word “caliente” and repeating “cafe con leche”) I finally got the right order.
The coffee episode reminded me of a visit to a Cancun that was barely open to tourists in the mid ’80′s. The hoteliers were making a valiant effort to attract vacation-goers and it truly is a beautiful place, with “confectioner’s sugar” beaches and water so warm and clear you think it came from a tap. However, their training of these very enthusiastic employees, who certainly understood and excelled at customer service, didn’t seem to concentrate on understanding or speaking english. After all, it is Mexico and Spanish is their language, but almost every turista in this hotel was American. A friend was in a room down the hall and went into the bathroom, turned on the sink, only to have water shoot up at him from the faucets. He attempted to repair it himself and when he realized it was beyond his plumbing expertise, he called the front desk. The lovely concierge there listened to him describe his problem but apparently only focused on the part where he said the “sink squirts.”
My friend was immensely pleased when not five minutes later there was a knock on his door. The pleasure turned to utter surprise when he opened the door and found standing there, not someone in overalls with a wrench and a bucket, but a white-gloved room service waiter with five cans of orange soda on a tray. Apparently, the concierge heard “cinco Squirts”… not “the sink squirts”…if you don’t know, Squirt is the very popular orange soft drink preferred by the Mexican people. She sent up five … “cinco.”
The other really bad thing you can do is shout at someone with an accent. I don’t know why, but I personally think if I just get really loud they will understand what I am saying.
You’ll find this blog is a little shorter…or “shoda.” It’s because I find it too hard to type with these Dragon Lady nails I have thanks to my poor understanding of an accent.
What difficulties do you have with language?