Lost in Translation

My Spanish is improving, but it still isn’t quite the best. Sometimes I get hung up by a word or confused by some tricky conjugations, but generally I understand; at least, I think I understand.


Perhaps sometimes people are just kind and humor me, only nodding and smiling instead of expressing their confusion and correcting me.


Some days are better than others as well, I definitely have bad Spanish days. Working online in English all morning leads to some serious confusion when I reenter my life in Mexico and need to shift back to Spanish. Spanglish — it’s mi vida.


People are extremely patient and friendly with my broken Spanish. I learn new words every day by talking with random folks who are curious about the silly gringo who wandered his way out of the main tourist blocks.


In fact, wandering is my main MO on this most recent leaving of America. I keep telling myself I am going to do some research and draw up a game plan… but I usually just end up picking a city that looks fairly close and buying a bus ticket. Sometimes I think that out a day or two in advance… sometimes I make a split-second decision in the line while waiting to buy a ticket.


In fact, my trip took me to Belize only a couple weeks after landing in Mexico City because of an off-hand promise I made to one of my good friends before leaving Durango. Oh, you’ll be in Belize?? Sure, I’ll come down… it’s right by Mexico.


That is true. It is by Mexico, in fact it boarders Mexico. What I failed to realize, however, is that Mexico is BIG. Very big. Even after and 8-hour trip to Oaxaca from Mexico City, it was another 8 hours from there to Puerto Escondido. But Puerto Escondido isn’t anywhere near Belize either. Oh no, it’s another 25 hours away actually. So, I took a 9-hour overnight bus to Tuxla, had a little breakfast break then got on a 16-hour bus ride to Chetumal… that was a day bus that turned into a night bus… that turned into another day bus. It was 3-in-1! An endless purgatory that left me with nothing but the comfort of Lana singing me to sleep as I drank a couple shooters of whiskey I had fortuitously come across the week before (thanks Tom).


Then I had to catch a boat… but I made it! Lesson learned: just fly dummy! … or maybe look at a map before making promises…


As some sort of breakthrough, though, I did buy a plane ticket for the next leg of my journey — I guess hell froze over and I’m starting to plan.


Anyways, back to wandering… I have spent the last couple of nights in a hotel in Palenque that costs $6.50 a night. I have taken a weekend of sorts, where I have done nothing. It’s been great, I highly recommend weekends to each and every one of you.


After a nap that could have been classified as a sleep, I got to wandering around my temporary town of residence and found a little chicken grill place. Plastic chairs, plastic table, plastic table cloths, horrible fluorescent lighting and the irresistible smell of well-spiced smoky chicken for cheap — my kinda place.


They had 4 options: ¼ chicken, ½ chicken, 1 chicken or 2.


In my impeccable Spanish I uttered something that probably sounded like “UN cuuuuuuuuaaaar – uuuuN – SOLO – UN.” Bad Spanish day. I actually forgot all my words at that moment.


“Un?” She answered.


“Si, un, gracias!” I said as I sheepishly looked away in utter embarrassment about forgetting a line that a 3-year-old could say.


Of course, by un, I was referring to un cuarto, or one quarter, but I didn’t mention that important word for quarter and instead ended up with “un” pollo… the whole bird.


Too ashamed to admit my mistake, I ate the whole thing… plus beans and rice. In retrospect, the lady taking my order did seem surprised at my request for un, but was probably just being kind and didn’t want to question my order.


Too add a cherry on top, as I was rounding the corner on my way home from the restaurant, I let out a tremendous belch, the kind that only one who has eaten a full chicken can produce, directly into the face of a scantily clad lady who was rounding that same corner, at that same unfortunate moment. Amazingly, she looked me in the eyes longingly and called me “flaco.”


And that ladies and gentlemen is truly lost in translation to me. Flaco means skinny and I had just released a belch that sounded like a drunken Loch Ness Monster directly at her! As I was mortified at my rude behavior, having a bad Spanish day and genuinely confused by her response, I turned slowly without saying a word and wandered home.



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