Given that my Spanish can be a bit limited and even sometimes quite embarrassing, I was surprised on my arrival in New York to discover that Spanish (well, Broken Spanish) has become my default language. I would automatically say “gracias” instead of “thanks,” “hola” instead of “hi,” “perdone” instead of “excuse me,” “si” and “no” instead of “yes” and… well, you get the point.
|BEFORE LEAVING SEVILLA. THEY UNDERSTOOD.|
My-Mother-The-Dowager-Duchess even found herself translating for me in restaurants when I didn’t understand the New York accents. “Can I get you more water?” sounded to me like “Kannagetchamowadah?” Although I’ve only lived in Spain a little over a year, I haven’t lived in New York for a very long time. Some years back, that question might have made perfect sense. The Dowager Duchess, fortunately, is usually easy to understand. The Kid Brother, on the other hand, speaks pure Brooklynese/New Yorkese/Queensese… whadevuh. I usually don’t have trouble understanding what he says because I’ve spent so many years imitating him. His accent and comments can be very entertaining. I just don’t understand why my understanding doesn’t carry over to the New York population in general. At Iberia check-in at Kennedy Airport, the woman at the counter asked me about the re-entry document folded within my passport. She had no need for it and didn’t understand why I gave it to her. She asked me the question in New York City English. I apologized (unwittingly, in Spanish) for not understanding the question, so she repeated it in Spanish, which I understood perfectly. She then looked at my birthplace on my passport. I’m surprised I wasn’t pulled aside for special screening. We then had a great conversation (in English) about my decision to live in Spain and about the magical city of Sevilla. But now I’m back in Sevilla and I say “breathe” (“respirar”) instead of “wait” (esperar). The basic truth is I have never in my life felt like I fully belonged anywhere. But that’s another story.
I may have mentioned before that the Spanish version of the English “ha ha” is pronounced the same but spelled “ja ja” (the “J’s” are pronounced like “H’s”). I think it’s kind of funny. Perhaps not ja ja funny, but funny.
While in New York with The Dowager Duchess, I had the misfortune to watch a cooking show on TV. Any time the kid brother arrives he turns on the TV and watches cooking shows. The Dowager Duchess grudgingly (so she says) watches with him. I don’t think it’s so grudgingly because she usually insists on telling me what they cooked — in some detail. Me! Well, one morning, although the Kid Brother wasn’t even there, The Dowager Duchess had the TV tuned to a cooking show. Ja! The host was Jamie Deen, one of two TV cooking sons of the TV cooking host Paula Deen. They’re from Georgia.
|AFTER SURVIVING A DRIVE THROUGH GEORGIA IN 1973.
WE FOUND OURSELVES IN THE MIDDLE OF THE DAYTONA BEACH MOTORCYCLE RALLY.
The traditional Georgian (Southern) accent is one I have always had some difficulty understanding. It all began with a university spring-break road-trip from New York to Daytona Beach, Florida. We were passing through rural Georgia in the middle of the night when our car broke down. It was creepy sitting on a pitch-dark rural road surrounded by huge trees draped heavily in Spanish moss. A state trooper arrived in uniform with a raw gash on his neck. There was fresh blood and it looked quite large for a shaving “nick.” He asked if we wanted him to call a wrecker. “Wahmahtacohlarecka?” is what it sounded like. When we four New Yorkers finally understood what the obvious serial killer was asking, we went into panic. In New York, we called “wreckers” “tow trucks.” We thought he was planning on taking the car somewhere and crushing it, probably with us in it. We didn’t understand why he was giving us a choice. We finally did understand (when a tow truck arrived and he said “theyah’s tha recka”). They towed us to a darkened gas station about 10 miles closer to the middle of nowhere. We slept in the car (with the doors locked) having no idea what was going to happen to us. In the morning, it was carefully explained (so we Northern idiots could understand) that all we needed was a new fan belt. After the repair was done, the creepy mechanic — filthy, gigantic, hairless, ash-colored, and dead around the eyes asked: “Wamahtchekaowe?” By the time he had repeated the question the fourth time, his fleshy ashen face was a purple gray and his eyes, although still dead, were bulging. “Oh!” we all repeated excitedly, “Want me to check the oil! Want me to check the oil!” “Yayah,” he harumphed. “No thanks,” we said. The car broke down in Georgia on the way home, too. I can’t believe we survived that trip. Not to disparage Georgia, I’ve been told the city of Savannah is especially charming.
|CHEF BROTHER BOBBIE DEEN (RIGHT) HELPING OUT UNTIL THE OTHER CHEF ARRIVED.
photo from a TV website
But, back to Jamie Deen and his cooking show. I have no idea what he was cooking. I just remember that there was a kid’s birthday party going on in the backyard and they had a piñata. While the chef stood over the barbecue grill, he controlled the string to constantly readjust the height of the piñata so his son could practice on it. The goal was to let the kid have some fun without destroying the piñata before the guests arrived. The chef’s wife warned him that the boy was getting too close. The chef smiled and then, I thought, laughed, “Ha ha.” He then raised the piñata a bit and was told to raise it more. “Ha ha,” he very clearly repeated. His wife gave him some instructions.
Then it hit me. He was not saying “ha ha.” He was asking, “How high?”
Ja ja! (I wonder how you say “LOL” in Spanish. In “Georgian,” I think there are two extra syllables.)