(Mis)adventures in Spanish

OK, readers…. by now you know that I’m living in the Dominican Republic. And since you’re mostly my friends or fellow DOS bloggers, I can open up a bit.

My Spanish keeps getting better, but like in anything, I have good days and bad days. The good days are beginning to outnumber the bad days (woo-hoo!), but when I have bad days, they’re BAD. Like I’m afraid to leave the house for fear of not being able to communicate even the most basic of ideas. It’s paralyzing in a city where maybe 2-3% of the population speaks passable English. Even a trip to the grocery store is harrowing, as since we’re Diplomats we don’t need to pay the ITIBIS taxes here (16% of purchase price), and I have a handy little card which explains my status and this privilege, but I ALWAYS get sh*t for it. And then I have to explain, in Spanish, what they need to do, who they can call to have their questions answered, etc. This is terrifying at times for me. I am always wondering when I’ll insult someone horribly (inadvertently, of course – my purposeful, directed barrages are held in reserve for the masses who get in my way whilst driving) and have to apologize. Because while I have a pretty good command of the language, it’s easy to miss the cultural context and clues and say something wildly inappropriate.

Friday I was having an admittedly good day for Spanish. But I made a mistake in the morning that made me giggle. I was dropping my son off at school, and he slipped and fell getting out of his car seat. Little bump to the head, lots of tears, and I brought him into his school still snuffling. His teachers asked, “¿Que pasó?” I quickly replied, “Se casó,” immediately realized my mistake, and corrected myself (“Umm, yo quise decir ‘se cayó.'”) in front of his 5 wildly giggling teachers. See, for those of you who don’t understand why this is so funny, what I originally said was, “He got married” (se casó). “Se cayó” means, “He fell.” At 7:30 a.m. I am prone to make mistakes.

This one was cute and innocuous, but it’s really common for me to forget entire parts of my lexicon, then have to craft some ridiculous tome trying to describe a concept for which one single word would suffice. For instance: ola = wave (as in, ocean wave). I was going to watch the “olas grandes” from Tomas the other week on El Malecon with my son, and couldn’t remember the word, so I spent 5 minutes trying to describe the concept to my housekeeper of the ocean welling up and breaking on the shore until she finally got it. One word. Five minutes describing it. Ugh.

Dried cranberries are another thing I can’t describe. I always get shown the raisins instead. Arándano is supposedly the word for cranberry in Spanish, but I don’t buy it. I’ve asked for “arándanos secados” like 5 times and ended up with raisins or looks of confusion.

Luckily, the majority of Dominicans are reasonable and let me stumble through words. Those Dominicans I deal with regularly will correct me (con permiso, por supuesto), and I get the feeling that even when I make mistakes, the Dominicans are happy with the fact that I’m trying, unlike many of the Gringos down here. My wife and I love to watch Dora la Exploradora and Vaya, Diego, Vaya! in Spanish, because it’s at our level. Yes, we speak Spanish at the level of a 5- or 6-year-old.

Expect some more posts out of me today… several things to talk about that aren’t conducive to a combined, 3,000-word blog post.