Falling Flat on My Face in Spanish

IMG_3986“Ass! Ass! Ass! Ass!” the farmer says to me while pointing to his avocado tree.

He is trying to tell me that he has “Haas” avocados. Ten minutes before, sitting and talking on his front porch, he told me that I can’t speak Spanish and, although I will learn, I will never be perfect. He holds up nine fingers, says “Nueve! Nueve!” and then once again starts saying “Ass! Ass! Ass!” as he points to the avocados.

I can really relate to him though. I make mistakes like this all the time in Spanish.

A bit of back story- I speak Spanish about 8 to 12 hours a day in the “campo”, the rural countryside of El Salvador. “Campo” Spanish is like how people speak English in the deep Appalachian South- thick accents, heavy slang, and a hesitancy to corrects others.

The accents, slang, and lack-of-correction means that I fall flat on my face in Spanish at least once a day (if not more).

For example, when I first moved into my community, I had to call my community guide to set up my community census. I asked him “Como esta”, a seemingly harmless question, expecting a nice “Estoy bien” or “I’m fine.” He told me “Estoy hablando por la mesa”, or “Speaking through the table” QUE?!?! What does that even mean? My Spanish teachers don’t even know what that means!

The “caliche” (or slang) gets even better. IMG_3979

Somehow, between my first bout with Giardia (water-borne parasites) or my teacher having Chikungunya (a disease transmitted from mosquitos that just came here from Africa- like Dengue fever but worse), I missed the Spanish class on Salvadoran slang. After living in my community for two months I had a Spanish class on all of the slang I didn’t know and realized all of the terrible mistakes I have made.

I have learned that, in the campo, saying almost any kind of food like “Me gustan las pupusas de Sara” or “Me gustan las tortas de Rosa” means “I like having sex with her.” Fortunately, I never said anything like this.

But, later in the class, I learned that I have made tons of mistakes in Salvadoran Spanish.

I learned that anything around the word “adventurous”  means “I like to sleep around with a lot of people.” Also, saying “We are on an adventure” means “We are going to sleep around together.”

I used to love the word adventure in English- an exciting, fun, new experience or trip. So, in my community, I would say “adventure” a lot. When my 4-year-old host sister would ask me where I was going, I usually told her “I am going on an adventure” which in Salvadoran Spanish means “I am going to go sleep around with someone.” When riding in the back of a pick up truck down a mountain, I would say to the group of people in the truck “We’re on an adventure!” or “We’re all sleeping around together!” I even told my host mom that I want to marry an optimistic, smart, adventurous feminist. After my Spanish class, I asked her if she thought I meant I want to be with someone who sleeps around with a lot of people. She told me she knows what I meant. At least I know one person in my community understood me.

I also learned that “mono” here means “badly behaving child”. In Spain I learned that “mono” means cute. So, for two months, whenever I saw a cute kid, I would affectionately say “Que mono” to the mother or “What a badly-behaving child you have.”IMG_3789

One of my favorite Spanish fails though was from my friend who is also new to her community. My friend thought that every time she said “culo” she was saying butt. She was really saying asshole (like the physical anus, not like a person who is a jerk). So, whenever she would say things like “These pants don’t fit my butt” or “My butt hurts” she was really saying “These pants don’t fit my asshole” or “My asshole hurts”. That always cracks me up.

She also learned in Spain that “flojo” means lazy. Here it means “someone who sleeps around” (anyone else sensing a trend here?). So, whenever she said something like “That man is lazy” she was really saying “He is a man-whore.”

One day, hopefully soon, I will stop falling flat on my face in Spanish.

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