Learning to converse in another language keeps me humble. Beginning with English, as a child I made up funny words. I’d call the small blue round Midwestern fruit, bluebodies. My father’s bluebody pancakes were and still are a family favorite.
In first year high school Spanish, I wanted to say, “I’m embarrassed” Tengo vergüenza. Instead I said, “I’m pregnant.” Estoy embarazada. I was discomfited to discover my mistake, but I had to laugh. The next week, my amigo made the same error, saying, “Estoy embarazado.” He was quite “pregnant “ when he realized what he said and he chuckled.
Each decade as a Spanish apprentice, I think I know the vocabulary I need, until I travel to a new country. I learned the Mexican word for car, carro, in high school. But, arriving in Spain, carro means cart and I learned coche. In 2001, my husband and I lived in Chile teaching English. In Santiago I said to a friend, “There are many coches on the street. She wagged a finger, “No, they’re not stagecoaches or baby carriages. They’re autos!” We giggled.
My Mexicanisms were perpetually misunderstood in Chile. Thinking of making a steak dinner for my husband and me, I ordered carne de res at a Santiago butcher shop one afternoon.
The butcher almost fell on the floor. “Ha ha ha! What kind of meat?”
I volunteered, “Cow meat?”
He replied, “Meat” (Aha, carne means beef!)
I giggled. “Okay, two kilos of carne!” The man with the red apron approved.
One day a Chilean friend and I conversed about fresh food from the daily market. I told him I liked how it had no preservativos. He sputtered, “That’s right, it has no prophylactics! It doesn’t have any preservatives either!” We belly laughed. And I wasn’t finished making embarrassing mistakes. Another amigo wanted to practice English and I was interested in speaking Spanish. Using a turn of phrase from Spain, I proposed an intercambio de lenguas. He snorted. “Are you sure? An exchange of tongues?!?” We cracked up. Okay, make that a language exchange.
From speaking Spanish, I’ve discovered making mistakes is not the worst thing that can happen. Never being wrong is. Finding humor in our faults is an important life tool. Mirth puts us on the road to self-knowledge. Taking ourselves less seriously allows us to be transformed. We can find inner peas. (Peace ; )
Para leer el ensayo en español, haga un clic aquí.
(To read the blog post in Spanish, click here.)