Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Languages of the South

Every week my wife and I go to a lovely Chinese restaurant for some good food.  It's our favorite place. The odd thing is that the cook who works the 'hibachi grill' is not Chinese or oriental of any ethnicity.  He's Hispanic. But more than just Hispanic, he speaks hardly any English (or 'Mericun' if you're of that line.) 

Now, I'm not going to get into any rant or lecture on speaking the language; I'll consider that said, and move on.  The problem comes in letting this nice (and talented) cook know the special way in which we'd like our meals cooked.  I've tried speaking plainly and clearly, knowing how Southerners chew their diphthongs and create whole new idioms and phrases just in not moving their lips.  But this hasn't worked. I don't speak with a southern accent, a fact which neighbor Bubba seems to find daily delight in pointing out, but this is also not the problem. What to do, what to do...


When we were in High School (out west, Colorado to be exact) we had to have a language credit in order to graduate. While most of my classmates chose Spanish, (Colorado is a huge magnet for the Spanish speaking immigrants coming up from Mexico...) I chose to be different (hey, it was the 70's, being a rebel is what I did.) and chose German.  Ja, ich spreche Deutche! Ich studierte zwei Jahre in der Höheren Schule. In retrospect, Spanish would have been a much better choice. In the 30 years since graduation I've used my German in conversation exactly twice. (Thrice if I count the two sentences above.) The number of times that Spanish would have been helpful...well, I've lost track, but I'd expect it's close to daily.  

My lovely wife was raised in the Southwest.  She understands a lot of Spanish, but does not speak it. Oh a word or two here and there, (she's taught me the good curse words plus a few) and perhaps a phrase or three, but when it comes to asking a Spanish cook in a Chinese restaurant to add more Teriyaki and leave off the garlic -nothing in her language toolkit works here.  I'd ask in German, but you know, I don't think he'd catch on at all. 

Finally, we turned to the Internet.  A nice translation page gave us the translation of Garlic to Spanish, "acho"  (which, if you're wondering is pronounced more like the word 'sock-o' and not like a big sneeze) so it wasn't that hard to put together 'mucho teriyaki, sin acho' for our new favorite chef. And yes, every time I use it, I'm back in high school, only this time I'm selecting Spanish for a language, and not German.  (Oy , solch eine schlechte Entscheidung!)

So, now along with the usual curse words and a few menu standards, I have my Chinese Cook - Spanish Instructions Phrase. I'm now MULTILINGUAL.  Now, if I can just master Y'all in such fashion, Neighbor Bubba would stop laughing at my 'non-accent.'

Such is Life in the New South. 

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