Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Bilingual Turkey

When we lived in Mexico, we both made a concentrated effort to speak Spanish to the Mexicans.  (They tried equally hard to speak English to us.)  Our efforts had mixed results. 

In general, my Spanish vocabulary and grammar exceeded Sheila’s.  She is half Mexican, but she is from Michigan and was raised as a non-Spanish speaking Midwesterner, whereas I spent a good part of my childhood on the Tex-Mex border. 

Prior to our arrival in Mexico, She only knew such important words as taco, enchilada, margarita, cerveza, gracias, corazon (heart) and alma (soul).  Just a few words, but they took her places and won her friends. 

We arrived in October, and by the time Thanksgiving was almost upon us, Sheila had learned the Spanish word for “turkey,” which is pavo.  She had also somehow caught on to the word polvo, which means “dust.”  You can sense where this is going, can’t you?

Sondra, a young neighbor whom we employed as a three-times-a-week maid, spoke less English than Sheila spoke Spanish, but by and large they managed to communicate with smiles, gestures, and eye rolls, the latter sometimes launched in my direction.  They bonded.

A day or two before Thanksgiving, Sondra arrived in the morning and started sweeping the tile floor.  With the usual smiles and gestures, Sheila proudly trotted out her new Spanish word, pavo, and sweetly informed Sondra that there were many turkeys on the floor over by the windows.

Now Sondra had respect for her elders and her employers, and she was also patient and gracious with mistakes in Spanish.  But at the startling news of the many turkeys on the floor, her normally kind and serene expression turned to total mystification mixed with concern.   Her new boss was perhaps a little loco.

Sondra turned to me for help, and saw the big grin on my face as I choked out “No es ‘pavo’!  Polvo!”  before bursting into giggles.  I explained that Sheila was thinking about the gringo custom of Thanksgiving, Dia de Accion de Gracias, where one serves pavo, when she meant to say the word for “dust.”  Sondra’s face cleared with relief.   “Ay, Senorita Cheela!”  she laughed and clucked, shaking her head with affection.

We have never forgotten the Spanish words for turkey and dust, and I had to share the memory with you.  May your pavo be delicious, and if there’s a little polvo on the floor, who cares?  It’s the corazon that’s important.