Can anyone explain why I just went into a Mexican restaurant and spoke English to their servers, who not only were Latino, but were speaking to each other in Spanish? Can anyone explain why I blushed and got embarrassed when I accidentally said “por favor,” instead of “please” at the end of my order?
My stupid mouth skipped ahead, ran faster than my brain. It spit out Spanish before my consciousness could slow it down, could think about the consequences and implications of my carelessness. But wait. Why would it ever be a problem to speak to someone in a language he speaks?
I shook it off. Just a simple mistake. I could recover. I could get back on track. Maybe he didn’t notice.
But wait. Notice what? That I know Spanish?
I knew I was screwed when he came back and tilted a pitcher toward my glass, asking, “¿Más agua?” Now, it was my move again. So, can anyone tell me: why did I respond in complete white girl English?
“I’m OK, theeeeankssss!”
Blarrgggh. Maybe I’m not fluent, but I can more than get by. Hell, I even know the demonic, semi-impossible subjunctive. Kind of. OK, I take it back. No one knows the subjunctive. But, look, if you dropped me in the heart of Oaxaca, I’d not only make it, I’d come back tanner, happier, and fatter. Believe that.
Ordering a simple meal? Yo la tengo. So if I knew how to order in Spanish from the jump, why didn’t I just do it? What was I waiting for?
I still don’t know the answer to this question. I don’t know what my hang up is, only that I do, in fact, have a hang up.
What’s more inexplicable is that it’s not a universal aversion or fear. Like, when I travel to a country where Spanish is the primary language, no hay problema, chica. I switch into Spanish mode and just go J.A.M.O.N.
So, then what the what? What exactly is my deal? What am I so scared of? What do I think is going to happen? Do I think this dude is going to make fun of me for the mistakes I make?
Do I think he’ll label me a fraud, tar and feather me, and send me home without supper?
Damas y caballeros, I’ve solved it.
I have an inexplicable and very specific fear of speaking Spanish with native speakers here in these great United States.
How fucking dumb is this? What is driving it? And when I become friends with someone who does speak Spanish, why do I ask for fucking permission to practice with them? When was the last time I ever asked for permission to speak?
This realization has been humiliating. Why?
It’s more than just how long it has taken me to figure out. It’s also because to me, communication — sharing ideas, moments, and experiences — is a panacea. There is nothing more comforting than feeling truly heard or understood. And there is nothing more human than showing that concern and consideration.
There are so many times that I could have done more to help a struggling English speaker or extend some warmth and familiarity to someone who probably doesn’t get enough of it. And the idea that I’ve been too scared and lazy to try harder on something so fundamental to human interaction is personally shameful.
And I call myself a writer? A strong communicator? Maybe my thoughtful waiter won’t call me a fraud, but he doesn’t know me as well as I do.