I lived in France for a year and speak and read the language pretty well, but it doesn’t do me much good here in America. Sure, I can order the heck off of a French menu, or translate the tasting notes off the back of a Bordeaux (which by-the-way is unnecessary, since I have yet to find a Bordeaux I haven’t liked) but I really can’t put it to proper use here.
Spanish, on the other hand, could have saved me loads of time and money and embarrassment over the years: time trying to explain things to a multitude of gardeners, pool guys and construction workers; money trying to negotiate with said workers; and embarrassment, well…
Here in Georgia, I walk out while my lawn is being done to tell them to be more careful around the bushes, or not cut the grass so low, and it’s a real crapshoot as to whether or not the guy I’m talking to gets me. Part of the problem is, it’s almost always a different guy. I guess I could start with “habla ingles?” but is that rude? So I just start by speaking English and try to read them by their nods and responses. I’m out there making giant hand gestures, while my neighbors must think I’m practicing to be a mime.
Back in LA, it was almost a given that my revolving lawn guys didn’t speak English. They also didn’t seem to know the difference between a weed and an herb. My wife was getting more and more angry with them with each herb they destroyed. “Can you talk to them again? I really don’t want to lose my rosemary too,” Alex said to me after her precious thyme had been obliterated by a weed-eater. “I have told them in plain English not to wack our herbs,” I said, realizing how stupid it sounded as it came out.
Alex is not one to just give up, however. The next time the gardeners were due to arrive, she had written out a missive in Spanish. “Can you put this out for them please?” she asked me. “Sure, but what does it say?” I prodded. “I found a Spanish translation site and they say it reads: ‘Please do not cut down our herbs with your weed-wacker.’” I shrugged and taped it to a tree right next to our herbs.
We came home later and found the gardeners having lunch under the tree. When they saw us they elbowed each other and snickered. Later I retrieved the note and read it again. Now, as stated, my Spanish is pretty much nil, but French is a romance language and somewhat similar. I went back in the house. “What were they laughing about?” Alex inquired. “I’m not certain, but I think we just told the gardeners not wack off on our herbs.”