Wednesday, May 18, 2016

pat -- i'd like to buy a consonant

My trek along the road to Spanish fluency has had its share of topes.

For those of you who have not driven Mexican roads, topes are similar to speed bumps in The States. Speed bumps with attitude. At least, some are.

They can be mere bumps in the road -- or they can be bone and suspension-jarring walls that often invite the unaware to indulge in an unplanned stop at the tire, muffler, or transmission shops that cluster around the killer humps.

My classes are going well. The four days a week I attend the two to three hour sessions have greatly improved my comprehension.

I would be less than honest if I said it has all been fun. It hasn't. On a normal day, I feel as if I am undergoing root canal surgery. On bad days, I simply want to quit.

And I have. Wanted to quit, that is. I formally threatened to drop out only once. I have re-discovered just how much I hate sitting in class.

Over all, it has been worth it, though. I can now carry on rudimentary conversations. When a group of young men stopped by the house last week to see if I was interested in having a garage door installed, I was able to carry on a conversation and get answers for my concerns about the best positioning of the door and its security features. The conversation went so well that a crew is out in my garage area as I type putting together what I requested.

Even simple things have become a pleasure -- like reading street and business signs. Words on road signs, whose meaning I have merely guessed at, are now clear to me. Even though the instructions themselves are sometimes quite ambiguous.

Then, there are the fun signs. Usually, home-made hanging in front of small businesses.

Take the sign at the top of this essay. It hangs in front of an abarrotes in La Manzanilla, a little beach town northwest of Melaque.

An abarrotes is a small neighborhood grocery specializing in items the store's neighbors might need. Think "mom and pop" groceries in The States.

This particular abarrotes advertises some of its wares. What caught my eye are the misspellings. There are at least four major ones on the sign. The repeated error (using a "v" instead of a "b") is quite understandable. Even though the mistake is the opposite of what I would have expected.

In Spanish, the letter "v" is pronounced with a sound between an English "b" and "v." Because it sounds like a "v," even native Spanish speakers frequently misspell words containing either letter.

Thus, "Fabuloso" becomes "favuloso" and "
jabón" becomes "javon."

There is an additional factor. I have seen surveys concerning what nations prize in their citizens. "Education" ranks extremely high in places like China and Korea -- and not so high in Mexico.

Even though Mexico has made great strides in improving its literacy rate, there are pockets where illiteracy is painfully high. I live in one of them. I found out years ago that leaving notes in Spanish is not very helpful when the recipient has very little reading skills.

I will point out that I could also write a series of essays on the faux spellings on signs along American highways. Fruit stands are in a class of their own.

When I started my Spanish classes, the first question from the teacher was what I wanted to accomplish. My answer was very simple. I wanted to learn enough Spanish to pass my citizenship language test.

Experience has now modified that answer. Initially, I did not indulge in what I consider to be the romantic answer: to communicate with my neighbors.

I didn't because I have very little contact with anyone -- either English or Spanish-speaking -- by choice. Other than my class, I can go almost a full week with talking to only the woman who cleans my house and the guy who cleans my pool.

But the garage door installers are a good example of people unexpectedly coming into my life. Without my weeks of Spanish lessons, my contact with them would probably have been a cursory "no." Instead, I will now have an automatic garage door.

And I will fill you in on that soon.

Maybe I could put a warning sign on my garage door: "
Cuidado con Varco."

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