This is funny
This is funny
Everyone who comes to San Miguel searches for that which will make then unique. Most find it in an art class, or in a new household item to wear, or in a good work or in Fabrica Aurora but a few are lost until the Bilingual Gang gets them. It happens one day while sitting in the Jardin, deliberately overhearing conversations, when all of a sudden an expat begins speaking in tongues. Given the age of most residents of San Miguel they believe it the beginning of a stroke until the expat speaks English again. They ask if the expat is okay and soon learn that the expat was speaking Spanish. The line “How did you learn to speak Spanish” is all the opening a member of the Translator/Guide Gang needs to start the recruitment process.
Recruits are sorted into two groups depending on how willing you are to give up talking in English. Those who can’t give up English are put in The Warren Hardy Group . There is already a post on this group. If you can give up English for the length of a class then you are put in The Immerse Group and begin your transition to Translator and Guide.
Taking Spanish Classes (TSC) becomes a lifetime activity for this group. There are over 3000 language schools in San Miguel that cater to this group and to Tourists who come to San Miguel to Learn Spanish. Many members take the same course over and over and never realize that it is the same course. They marvel at the ability of Mexican children who seem to learn Spanish effortlessly but one day THE MOMENT occurs when they read their First Sign in Spanish and Translate it for a friend.
They are so proud to say “No, you must go this way. I can read Spanish signs.” So begins the new role of translator
This sign, that was hanging over the door to the Instituto Allende has kindly been translated by a Level 1 Warren Hardy graduate. The words sabado and domingo are the names of the people who own the Instituto Allende and don’t need to be translated.
Life now has purpose. No trip outside of San Miguel will occur without having on board The Translator. The Translator will be brought home to talk to the maid about some new duty she will have to perform. Maids gather daily in Gringo Free Zones to trade stories of what The Translators have said to them. One was told the she needed to wash the baby cow every day, another that she had to stop standing on the bed and another to cook more weeds. Maids love the panicked look on the Translator’s face when they ask a question back in front of their employer and eagerly await the Translator’s response.
Employer: John ask Maria where she put my yellow hat?
Translator: Maria where did you put your employer’s blue hand?
Maria: Are you sure it wasn’t her dog’s toy?
Translator to Employer: She wants to know what you want for dinner tonight
Employer: Tell her I want that Mexican thing with beans and beef wrapped in that tortoise shell
Translater: Maria can you walk two beers and take a photo of the garbage
Maria: Si Si Senor.
Another role for the Translator is translating menus in restaurants without English Menus. This can be a minefield as one wrong translation and a plate of organs can undo years of Spanish lessons. So most translators choose two authentic restaurants, order everything on the menu and then write down on a piece of paper what it was. eg No. 3 beans, beef, with salad. When asked where to eat some authentic Mexican food they recommend one of the two restaurants but say “You know there is no English Menu.” That will elicit an invitation to dinner and the evening is spent translating the menu. “I think you would like number 5.”
One day, in the Jardin, they will be called over and hear the magic words that justifies moving to San Miguel “Oh ask John, he speaks Spanish”.
Liberty in a comment has identified a group you can find in San Miguel – Bilingual Children. My son has already done a great entry on Multilingual Children on his site Stuff White People Like explaining how these people come to be through design. But there are people born into families where they learn two languages. (In North America we call them Immigrants). These people scare residents of San Miguel because they speak English like a native and Spanish like a native. They have power and are often hired into a Bienes Raices where they can do much damage.
Let’s be a little sexist. Who talks more men or women?
About a year ago, Louann Brizendine, founder and director of the University of California, San Francisco’s Women’s Mood and Hormone Clinic, published The Female Brain. One of the most cited gems within its pages was a claim that women are chatterboxes, speaking an average of 20,000 words per day, nearly three times the mere 7,000 spoken by men
A bestselling book claims that women say an average of 20,000 words a day and men only 7,000. Can it be true? We ( The Guardian UK) wired up two writers to find out
Hannah said 12,329* words
Tim said 11,279 words
*Hannah accidentally turned off her recorder for two hours, however, so her real total could be 14,000.
Is this is why there are so many women in language classes in San Miguel or is it simply that there are so many women?
Have you noticed the gringo women (it’s always women) who want everyone to know they can speak Spanish?
They are always making themselves the center of attention, engaging any hapless Mexican within range in endless conversation, speaking louder than any true-blue Mexicana, gesturing wildly, emoting beyond reasonable measure, with occasional furtive glances to the left and right to make sure somebody (anybody) is watching…and suitably impressed with their linguistic abilities (hmmmm…could easily attach significance to THAT ability as well!)
There is always a moment, at some point on a trip, when the failure to take Warren Hardly Spanish Level 1 is brought home.
There are several questions this woman wants to ask and will be unable to ask or find the answer to any.
First is this a toilet? There are no signs to indicate whether it is or is not. No pictures or letters can be seen.
Secondly are there four walls around this toilet or simply two and is this couple watching someone in the toilet? and later, her, if she goes in.
Thirdly, how can I ask this young man to remove his arm so that I can open the door and check to see if it is a toilet? Or perhaps he is guarding the door for his Aunt until she finishes. Should I wait? Why didn’t I learn Spanish?
A call of nature is one of those moments, when the failure to speak the language is driven home.
As part of the Foreign Disney Travel Experience, tourists and expats alike take on a persona of exaggerated enthusiasm or escalated engagement. They revert back to that persona, who used to talk to small babies with big eyes and slow speech and exaggerated hand movements. This persona is used to deal with every Mexican they meet, and in particular children.
It is an interesting persona, because at the base of it, is the failure to understand that the person or baby you are talking to in no way understands a single word you are saying yet there is a persistence to continue the communication despite the only response of giggles. This behaviour is the result of living where everything being said is understood. Not being understood is never a reality. When that person moves into an environment of a foreign language and no understanding, then there is no learned structure to support movement in that culture.
The first strategy, many use, is to talk slower, believing that they only reason the person you are talking to you can’t understand you, is because you are talking too fast. With slow speech comes the enunciation of each letter and vowel. I waaannnntt tooooo gooooo toooo the busssss sstttaaatttiooon. At the root of this belief system is the belief that English is really some innate or intuitive language, possessed by all, that can be summoned up with slower exaggerated speech.
If slow speech fails to stir intuitive English then frustration begins to set in but at no time does this person resort to sign language or acting out what they want. The fault of no understanding is transferred completely to the foreign local. They wait for the foreign local to take the next step and offer no clue as to what problem they are trying to communicate. Perhaps at the heart of the inability to act out what is wanted, is the inherited English coldness where using one hands to express oneself is regarded as stuff foreigners do.
The problem is compounded by the fact that the tourist has in no way prepared themselves for the experience of travelling outside an English speaking area. A phrase book is never in hand. No research has been done about how to do something. “We’ll just ask when we get there” appears to be the operating system for travelling.
If they find someone who speaks some English, they then believe that this person has a complete grasp of English but with a funny accent. They then use complete sentences to ask for what they want. The foreign local is faced with a barrage of English words of which perhaps 20% in intelligible and perhaps 25% of those words decipherable. The puzzled look and lack of expected response by the local, frustrates the tourist, even more, so they double their effort to use different words. For some reason focusing on one verb and one noun and inflection such as Bus Station where? instead of Could you please tell me where the local bus station to Queretaro is? is beyond their comprehension.
Frustrated, exasperated and having bought nothing, they decide to retreat to a place where people speak English – San Miguel de Allende and other expat communities such as Ajijic. Learning nothing about their experience in a non English speaking world they then start to communicate with locals. The easiest targets are babies and young children. They have experience with pre verbal younguns. They know BABY TALK. BABY TALK is how you talk to children. Faces get animated. Every little movement of the Baby is applauded, words get shortened, voices get lower, speech gets slower until the COMPLETE IDIOT has emerged to talk to local Mexican Children.
That must be how Mexicans see Tourists and non spanish speaking Expats – as the COMPLETE IDIOT.
San Miguel would be truly Heaven if everyone spoke English. Then it would be like living in the US or Canada but on cobblestone streets and having help. Gangs understand the frustration faced by new members who can’t be understood but tell them soon Gangs members will outnumber the Mexicans in town in five years and be able force them to take speak English. In the meantime some members of the Doing Good Works Gang are doing their part to make San Miguel unilingual by teaching locals how to speak English.
As a gap to bridge the time until English is the official language of San Miguel Gang members receive a small manual of Spanish expressions to guide them in San Miguel. It is produced in its entirety below.
Gracias – means thank you. When ever someone says something to you in Spanish simply smile and reply Gracias and quickly walk away.
Si and No – Si is Yes and No is No. Depending on your mood that day, you can go through most of your day responding Si or No to anything asked you in Spanish but remember to say Gracias before you walk away.
Cuanto Cuesta plus a handheld calculator – When you find stuff you want to buy, say Cuanto cuesta and hand them your calculator. They will type in a number indicating the price of the item. But remember prices aren’t fixed in San MIguel (except for Art and Warren Hardy Language Classes) so be prepared to spend at least two more hours passing the calculator back and forth until you get that “Special Price”.
Banos – means toilets. If nature calls simply say the word banos and have a pained look on your face. Failing that go into any expensive hotel where the restrooms say Men and Women. However if the doors don’t have pictures of men and women on them but only Spanish words then I you are in for an adventure. M sometimes is where women go. But as many a gang mama has found, in San Miguel, using the wrong washroom can work to your advantage. If you are a cowboy then use this sign to guide you to cowboy things.
What to do if a Restaurant doesn’t have an English menu. This is a sign that tells you that the food won’t be like home so leave quickly but don’t forget to say in a loud voice as you go out the door “They aren’t going to get much business with that attitude.” Just so they know who runs San Miguel.
Where do they speak English
This gang is identified by the yellow bag they carry announcing they are part of the Warren Hardy Gang. Warren is one of the few men to develop a large well organized Gang in San Miguel. He and his partner Tuli have been here since 1990 recruiting members.
They have four levels of membership.
Level 1’s can be seen struggling with their power verbs in the Jardin. They are constantly telling Mexicans what they want, need, like, can, have to and where they are going. Sometimes it is a question and sometimes it is a statement.
Level’s 2’s live in the past and tell Mexicans what they paid, saw, ate, cooked and where they went. For some this is a chance to reinvent their past in another language.
Level 3’s and 4’s are all very tense and have seven and more levels of tension. They can be understood by Mexicans and are very dangerous as they can now buy real estate.
* a special Gracias to Warren for the picture