Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Holy crap, my mother was right!

Leaving work this evening, I encountered a dapper Latino man at the corner of 16th and M. I could see he was a bit lost. He kept looking down toward the White House, three blocks away, and then would look at an envelope in his hands. Just as I was about to cross the street, he spoke to me in heavily accented English: "Excuse me, where is Madison Hotel?"

He showed me the envelope that was marked MADISON HOTEL - 15th and M Streets, NW.

"Oh," I said cheerfully, "That's just a block down this way." He smiled and said, "No English." Then he pointed down to the White House. He pointed at his chest. "From Mexico. My presidente, Felipe Calderón, at White House. I..." He struggled for a moment, "Official photographer for my presidente." Cool.

I said, "C'mon on, I'll show you to the hotel." It was just half a block past my parking garage. He smiled and said again, "No English." Crap. As someone who does speak a second language, I find it utterly frustrating to meet someone in need with whom I cannot communicate. I didn't think my photographer friend would be amused or interested to know that the only Spanish I know is: 1)about dangerous Peruvian llamas; 2)a request for cold water; or 3)pretty obscene. Surely frustrated, the Mexican gentleman rattled off an extremely speedy set of sentences en español, and I was clueless.

I patted him on the wrist and gestured for him to come with me. Foreign cities can be pretty freaky, no matter what. And when it's dark and rainy and you don't speak the language, that increases the scary factor exponentially. I'm always happy to help someone out in unfamiliar surroundings.

15th Street - and the Madison Hotel - spotted, the presidente's photographer gave me a big "¡Gracias!" and headed for his temporary home. As we parted ways, a linguist with whom I'd been working all day caught up to me on the street. He and I have a common second tongue, Russian, and I told him about my encounter and how troubling it was to not be able to adequately help a visitor because I didn't speak his language.

And then, I remembered that damn dream from a few nights ago.

I could see my mother again, chiding me, "See? I told you, you should have taken Spanish."

I could only laugh. She was right. :-)

7 comments:

Cyn said...

Oh...my...god. Too cool.

Bill said...

That is cool! And another weird thing... neither of us speaks much Spanish but we both know that "La llama de Peru es un animal muy peligroso." It's a source of endless amusement to my Spanish speaking friends when I say it to them. They bring other Spanish speakers from all over just to hear it. Now, I know where I learned that one: in an undergraduate linguistics class on second language acquisition at Georgetown (something to do with teaching the different sounds of el). Where did you learn it?

Your sister, Kathy said...

Como esta usted? Hi Melissa! That is why I am studying Spanish while I drive to work!

But you were my translator many years ago in Germany///di you remeber that great Saturday we had in Frankfort?

Love you.....we all were brought up to help others, regardless of our limitations!

KC

Anonymous said...

I'm actually kind of ashamed I don't know Spanish better...I'm from Albuquerque, and I did take a couple years of it in high school, but it's all been forgotten. I still live in the Southwest (in Texas) now so I have thought of taking a course in it. We'll see how things go.

Keith near Denver said...

I've never taken a foreign language I'm sad to say. Somehow I managed to graduate from college in Louisiana without foreign language classes ever being a requirement.

I wished I had taken spanish when in 1997 I was sent by my company down to Mexico City to work with a sister company of ours. The language barrier was difficult, so I always had to stick around people who knew both languages.

Funny story: After using a printer driver floppy so that I could print to the office printer, my laptop started telling me my print jobs were done in Spanish. I thought - just great, my laptop is picking up Spanish faster than I am!

It continued to tell me about low ink, no paper and other printer related items in Spanish even after I returned to the US.

Janet M. Kincaid said...

That is hilarious! I think your mother is trying to tell you something. "Take a Spanish class." And you know what they say about mothers and daughters. Always listen to your mother.

Hm. On second thought, that's not always the best advice, is it? If I kept following that moniker, I'd end up staying in D.C. in an endless loop of insanity...

Anonymous said...

oh that is too funny. Even from beyond the grave, Moms are always right ;)