On the day that I got my passport renewed I got my passport photos taken at a CVS that was on the way to the post office. All the employees and customers that I heard talk spoke English, Spanish and Spanglish.
“‘Orale, llamarle to the break room.”
“Then digame eso: no sabes que they were by the door?”
And it’s terrible. Because the Spanglish I speak is lame. I cover for my lack of grammar knowledge and vocabulary. But with the people at CVS, it was like they were using both languages to say it more quickly. (The word for ‘then’ in Spanish is ‘enTONces.’ One syllable beats three.) But the rhythm of their Spanglish seemed more Spanish to me.
When I went to Taqueria Moran, I spoke in Spanglish to the mesera. And she spoke in Spanglish to me. I felt like I was communicating effectively in Spanglish, and not just doing it to cover my lack of Spanish knowledge. Awesome!
But then there was a moment when I was ordering coffee that I freaked out a little. She asked me if I wanted “soo-gar.” What could she possibly mean by that? What kind of weird Mexican/Puertorican food is that? Even after studying abroad twice, I don’t even speak Spanish, why do I act like I can understand when I don’t even know the names of basic foodstuffs?! I will never, ever get past “Nivel: gringa” espanol, why do I even try?
Uneasily, I pointed back to the coffee on the menu to make sure we were talking about the same thing. “Soo-car” must be some sort of food, but I haven’t ordered any food yet. Or did I? Was I possessed by the Spanish language itself? Was it punishing me for daring to speak it so poorly? Had I missed some unconscious cultural signal and implied by ordering coffee that I wanted a ‘soo-car’ desert or mint or something that I have never encountered before ever in my life? Does this restaurant have it’s own culture of ordering coffee that only regulars/naturalized citizens of the diner would know? Have I made a mistake of even setting foot in this place where they have this secret special language and codes of behavior regarding food and coffee and soo-car?!
“Yes, yes,” she said, pointing also to the large coffee on the menu, “but quieres soo-car for your cafe?” SUGAR! “Shuh-ger.” (Soo-car is so close to the pronunciation of ‘azucar’ (pronounced a-soo-car) in Spanish!) Everything makes sense now! This is one of the words that a fluent speaker of Spanglish would have been ready for. Unfortunately, I am fluent in English and learning Spanish. And apparantly I should take up Spanglish as a third language.
Spanglish is my downfall, and the native speakers who can flit back and forth with aplomb between langages should stop rubbing their polyglot status in my face. I have confidence when I’m in a restaurant ordering food in Spanish, but I’m self conscious of being such a gringa. One of the cooks at the restaurant where I work said “I never met a white lady who spoke such good Spanish before, buey.” Whenever a native speaker compliments my Spanish, I always feel like they’re being nice. The kind of nice you are to a kid with Down’s Syndrome, because you can’t not be nice to someone who can’t possibly ever be completely right and tries anyway. But maybe I just need to take that compliment and move on. And start the difficult task of learning that Spanglish.