Wednesday, June 06, 2012

separated by a common language

Mexico is in full election swing.  Yesterday I was wandering through Villa Obregon taking photographs of the various posters.

The photographs were for a post I had considered drafting about the Mexican elections.  A post that may or not find its way to the internet.  Mexico's constitution has some rather strong things to say about foreigners tampering in its elections. 

Article 33 wags its fingers in the face of outsiders: "Foreigners may not in any way participate in the political affairs of the country."

The same article warns violators that a quick trip home may be in the offing.  "The Federal Executive shall have the exclusive power to compel any foreigner whose remaining he may deem inexpedient to abandon the national territory immediately and without the necessity of previous legal action."

Of course, all of that is in the constitution in Spanish.  Not English.

And that brings me to my story.

I was taking a photograph of a wall next door to a fishmonger.  The shop owner was curious what I was doing and came out.

He greeted me in Spanish.  (I will use the blog universal translator to keep all of us in this tale.)

"Good afternoon.  How are you?'

I responded with my trademark: "Practically perfect in every way in this best of all possible worlds."

We then exchanged a few more pleasantries in Spanish.

Then, out of the blue, he asked: "Are you Italian?'  But he asked in English.

I started laughing and asked him if my Spanish was that bad.  Because I certainly do not fit the usual Italian profile.

In true Mexican fashion, he changed the topic.  It turns out, like many Mexican men of his age, he spent some time north of the border.  In my old home state of Oregon.

We talked about his experiences in Oregon.  My little story about the young Mexican men standing in line at a Salem Taco Bell.  His fish business (where I lied that I would be back when I find more culinary pleasures in tofu than in fish).

The encounter reminded me of an earlier event involving my "practically perfect" response.  One morning at church before I moved to Mexico, a congregant, a Cuban-American, greeted me in Spanish.  I responded with my Poppins-Voltaire trademark.

She stopped.  Looked me in the eye and said: "I'm sorry.  I don't speak Latin."

Italian.  Latin.  There seems to be a trend there.   My Spanish sounds foreign to native speakers.

But I intend to do something about that.  Later this summer I will serve time in the highlands.  And it will not simply be a pleasure trip this year.  This time I am going to attend a language school.

When I return to Melaque, I will be able to speak Spanish as well as -- any other tourist from Salem.


Andean said...

I am very curious to hear how your "trademark" translates in spanish.

Steve Cotton said...

 Apparently, not as well as I thought.

Come to think of it, you have already heard it.

Andean said...

Nah, I would have remembered, the french.

Steve Cotton said...

 Good one.

Dan in NC said...

Cogito, ergo sum... 5 yrs of Latin laid a sound basis for reading and understanding the gist of the "romance" languages - when they are written.. Cesars commentaries on the Galic wars, don't do zip when you are trying to grab the words out of the ether to get your propane tank filled... The olde PBS series "Destinos" is still one of the best around to train your ears.... And it is free on the Internet (and still a fun tele novela!)
Dan in nc

Steve Cotton said...

I have discovered the same thing.  My two years of high school Latin have been invaluable in increasing my Spanish vocabulary.  At least, written Spanish.  Oral is a completely different story.

And the CDs are often hopeless.  My greengrocer could care less if the green fountain pen is stuck in the baked chicken.

I am going to give a one-on-one formal setting a shot.  When I graduate, I will undoubtedly sound like Mussolini on a trip to Madrid,

Babsofsanmiguel said...

I so hope you're going to warren hardy school.  I need to do a refresher and we could do it together!  

Steve Cotton said...

 I was thinking of one of the other schools.   But we can talk.

Kimgalle said...

SMA? Oaxaca? Elsewhere? 

I'm glad you're going to do it. Learning Spanish is like learning a musical instrument. Takes constant practice.

Remember how long it took you to learn English?


Kim G
Boston, MA
Where we have yet to get the hang of saying, "Chowdah."

Steve Cotton said...

 Guanajuato or San Miguel.  I'm not certain yet.

According to family legend, I am not unlike the North Korean Kims.  I sprung from the womb blogging about my entry into this world. 

We don't need no stinkin' English classes.

John Calypso said...

There are several language schools in Puerto - you can take a refresher course this winter - vamos hacia abajo!

Christine Dubois said...

I think you should be flattered.  You are losing your American accent. Your Mexican friends can still tell you do not quite have a Mexican accent, but they don't hear an American one either!

norm said...

For one-on-one Spanish classes, it is hard to beat Antigua Guatemala. It's a walking town, and a good thing because the food is too good for ones own good. 

Steve Cotton said...

 I will sound like an Italian and look like a Bavarian.

Steve Cotton said...

 That is a novel perspective.  Unfortunately, My Spanish has always had a bit of an Italian lilt to it.  Like some odd vaudeville act.  Jose Jimenez from Sicily.

Steve Cotton said...

 Another possible road trip.

sparks said...

I have a friend in SMA that mostly teaches English in his own school (40-50 students sometimes).  He has taught Spanish there but there seems to be a larger Mexican market.   He taught college level Spanish in Seattle.   I could ask him ... and/or if he has suggestions

Andean said...

Your first blog's title might have been, Cruisin Thru the Birth Canal.

Steve Cotton said...

 Or -- Womb with a View.

Steve Cotton said...

 We need to talk.  On this topic, of course.  But also just to get caught up on our lives.

Theresa in Merida said...

Hi Steve, Lately I keep getting asked what part of Mexico am I from? My standard answer is "hearing me speak Spanish, do you really think that I am Mexican?"
I asked my hair dresser who is from Northern Mexico and he said that no one in Mexico has my accent. LOL. Actually, he says that I have (what I already kinda knew) a mixed Caribean/Spain/occasional American accent. It's words like California that are the same in Spanish and English that tend to be pronounced in English. When I hear Italians speak Spanish, it's interesting, it's Spanish with an Italian rhythm.  

I ran your phrase "Practically perfect in every way in this best of all possible worlds"  thru Google translate and got "Prácticamente perfecto en todos los sentidos en el mejor de los mundos posibles"

What I would probably have translated it as " Casi perfecto en cada manera en este mundo que es el mejor do los mundos posibles" but who am I to argue with google? Using casi which means almost, and specifying which world..

What do you say?


Steve Cotton said...

Prácticamente perfecto en todos manere en el mejor de los mundos posibles

Close to Google's.

Theresa in Merida said...

I think it's the manere that makes sound Italian. It's todas las maneras in Spanish. But really it's understandable and much better than google for meaning.

Steve Cotton said...

That could be.  It certainly is not my pope-like bearing.  Of course, then the locals would think I was German.  And that happens frequently.