Monday, January 11, 2010

Ralph's Spanish

When we are talking with our Canadian friends and family back in Canada one of the frequent questions is "How's Ralph's Spanish coming". So I thought that I would answer this question in a blog post.

I have had 6 weeks of intensive study comprising 20 hours of formal study each week. This has been followed by 2 hours a week of formal teaching and review. So with this I have been armed with enough Spanish to "get along" so to speak. Here are some recent examples of my Spanish use.

1. Weekend in Mexico City. I was a bit nervous going to Mexico City to meet Luis's family. Spanish only. But I did well. We had a family supper with the family and although I didn't speak as much as the others I certainly understood all that was being said and I got to offer a comment here and there. Again the next day we all met in the late afternoon. We strolled and chatted as we walked around the church where Alison and Luis will get married and around the park and markets. We chose a restaurant for supper and again a lot of Spanish. I was comfortable and followed the conversations and offered comments here and there. Later we walked around some more and I related my problem of not being able to find a Suzuki dealer in Oaxaca where I could get my car lights fixed. With that and other small talk I survived mexico City.
I was please with my progress with the language in just how much I was able to comprehend.

2. Purchasing a cell phone. I thought that it was time to have my Blackberry Storm setup for use in Mexico. So far I have been using the phone as our bedside alarm clock. I also have a phone that I purchased while in Thailand last year which needs a SIM card for Mexico. So off I went. I was heading out to do a few errands anyway while Tanya was working at home. I parked near the bank where I was getting some cash for the week. I saw a Telcel store across the street so I wandered over there.

So in Spanish I say "Good morning. Do you sell SIM cards? I need a SIM card for this phone." The clerk says "No". I have to go to "el centro". She points in a direction over my right shoulder. This confuses me because "el centro" means the city center and that is in the opposite direction to the one she is pointing. I say "Where? In the center of the city?". She says "No. Just across the street." She takes me to the door and points across the street where the Telcel head office is located.

So across the street I go. I see that Telcel here has a big store with many "tellers" and a long line of people waiting. Near the door there is a receptionist. I ask if I can get a SIM card. She says yes, gives me a slip of paper and tells me to join the line up with the other people. The slip of paper has the date and time of my arrival. So, after 35 minutes in line I finally get my turn at one of the 8 tellers. So again, in my perfect Spanish I say good morning and do you have a SIM card for this telephone. I hand her the phone. She takes the phone, excuses herself and steps through a door at the back. In about 5 minutes she returns and tells me that this particular phone will not work with the Mexico SIM card. Okay, I say. How about this phone, can it be setup to work here? And I pass her my Blackberry. She checks the phone. She checks her computer. She whispers something to the lady sitting at the next teller location. Then she excuses herself again and goes out back. After about another 10 minutes she returns and tells me that this phone will not work on their system. She suggests that I go to IUSACELL about 2 blocks down the street.
So off I go driving down the street looking for IUSACELL. I arrive to the sounds of blazing rock music. I go inside and speak to a young fellow. I tell him that the music is so loud that I cannot hear. He closes the front door.Do you have a SIM card for my phone I ask. He looks at the phone and tells me that their SIM cards will not fit into the phone. Okay, then how about my Blackberry? He looks at it, asks me who the carrier is - I say Bell Canada, and then he steps into a back room. In about 5 minutes he returns and tells me that I will not be able to get service in Mexico. (I'll have to call Bell now and see what they have to say).
Okay, no phone service for me. Well I ask, how about selling me a phone. We select on the least expensive phone which will only work in Mexico. I need to get a phone card for the Pay-as-you-go option. I can get more time at the grocery store when needed. Okay I say and get information about the cost of calls in Oaxaca, the cost if I am in Mexico City, the cost if I call Canada and the cost of incoming calls. Business is done and I leave. All of this was accomplished in Spanish. I am proud and surprised with myself. And I now have a working phone.

3. Replacing head light and tail light on the car. The front right and rear right lights were out on the car. Tanya finds out that auto electrical issues need to be taken to a specialty shop that deals with lights. So off I go to a shop that we had earlier found on the road to the airport. I parked on the street outside of the shop doors. I went in and 3 guys stared at me. I asked for the jefe (boss). I asked the boss if he could fix my lights. I had looked up in the dictionary earlier and knew that the head light was "faro" and the tail light was "piloto" so I was armed with vocabulary. He asked what model car I had and I pointed to my car on the street and said that it was a Suzuki Swift. He told me to bring it into the shop which I did.

The boss assigned a young fellow to the job. I popped the hood, the fellow popped out the bulb and with his tester determined that the bulb was burnt out. he went inside and returned with a replacement. Done. Great. Now the back light. He asked me to turn on the lights and to step on the brake so that he could determine which light to focus upon. He then opened up the light box and extracted the bulb. The bulb was fine so he looked at the connector then went inside. He returned with a small file which he used to clean off the contacts. The bulb was re-inserted. I tried the brakes and everything looked good.
The boss came over and we discussed the work and I asked the price. I was nervous about this part because in Toronto this was a $100 job. He looked at me carefully and I could see that he was determining just how much he could overcharge this gringo. !00 pesos he says. Pardon, could you repeat that please. 100 pesos is only $10. Shocked, that even if that is an overcharge I am ecstatic. I quickly pay, hope in my car and happily drive off. Another Spanish interaction successfully completed.

4. Getting the oil changed on the car. When we first arrived in Oaxaca we went to have the oild changed. The Suzuki dealer here only does motorcycles but they agreed to change the oil for us. The issue then was that they did not have a filter for the car. After that we arranged for our friend Sarah to pick up 2 filters in Toronto and delivered them to Tanya in Cancun during Claire's stagette. So I was prepared.

Can you change the oil in my car please I ask. The shop boss remembers me and says it cannot be done without a filter from Veracruz. I say that I have a filter from Canada. He says that he is going to get another gentleman who speaks English. As he leaves I say the the other guy there, "can you not understand my Spanish and that I want the oil changed?". He says that, yes he understands and that the other guy is going to get the English guy.
By the time the English guy returns I have made the mechanic understand that I need an oil change and that I have the oil filter. I reconfirm this to the big boss who speaks as good English as I do Spanish. I show them the filter and am told to drive my car into the service bay. The job gets done and I pay. The charge is $20 for the 4 liters of oil and $8 for labour. That is 280 pesos for the complete job.
Initially awkward with the Spanish but the job got done. Good for me.

5. Getting the car washed. The car was filthy and dusty with all of our recent travels. Time for a wash. As I am driving home I pass a "Auto Lava". I stop, put the car in reverse and drive into one of the 3 bays. The boss comes over and I ask for a wash. Sure he says. Inside too I ask. Sure, inside and out he says. Good I say and add, "How long will it take?" which I say as "How much time?". He responds with something that includes the state name of Chiapes. At this point we both look at one another as we both know that there has been a miscommunication. I again offer "How much time to wash the car?". He smiles and says 40 minutes.
Great I say to myself. I did it. Well I sit down in one of the waiting chairs and I read through the local paper. About 30 minutes later the job is done. "How much", I ask. "40 pesos", he says. (That's about $4.) I give the young fellow 10 pesos as a tip ($1).

So, I am not great with my Spanish but when I force myself upon people and make them actually deal with me in Spanish I can get the job done. I certainly need more practice but I have come a long way since October. I can communicate.

1 comment:

Angie L. said...

That was a great post! And a great last few posts as well. Very exciting about the real estate! Post some pictures if you can...I see that my adventures to Oaxaca had definitly slowed down your blogging activity and I am very happy that you guys are back to your usually blogging. I check daily for new don't slack off guys!

I can say from first hand experience that Ralph's Spanish is very good, he even corrects Tanya's grammar!

Hope George's trip there was uneventful - remind him...Spanish only! With George & Ralph conversing in Spanish I wonder if they will start losing some of their English??

Missing you guys tremendously!