Starting at the ripe young age of 11 or 12, we started taking Spanish in school. In class we were all given a Spanish name and while most people’s given names were obvious – John was Juan, Ann was Ana, and Joe was naturally Jose – the Spanish equivalent to Jaime unfortunately happened to be reserved for someone with an adam’s apple and a prostate, neither of which I have. So instead of my Spanish name being ‘hi-may’, in which case they might as well have just called me Bob, in 7th grade Spanish class I was referred to as ‘Juanita’. Just flows off the tongue, no? ¡Waaaaaaaaaaaaaaahhh-neeta!
So seventh grade marked the beginning of my Spanish-speaking skills, though if you remember at that point in my life I was shy and really quiet, and for some reason every time I was picked to say anything in class, I would instantly turn red as a beet and little trickles of sweat would pop out of my armpits and roll down my sides. And I’d usually manage to mumble something incoherent that just made it sound like I had a mouth full of food. For some reason, I could speak with a proper accent but speaking Spanish out loud the right way made me really really embarrassed. It was bad enough that my voice would shake if I was picked to read something aloud in English, but throw me into another language chock-full of rolled r’s and double l’s and sounds that didn’t come out of me naturally and I always ended up a bug-eyed nervous mess. Needless to say, I never quite perfected my Español even though I went on to take it all through high school and another year or 2 in college.
Today when I went down to the cafeteria to grab lunch, Paulina the cafeteria lady smiled at me and said, “Hola! ¿Cómo estás?” Well that one I know. So I answered with a typical, “Bien! ¿Y tu?” Good! And you? And she answered me back with a “¡Muy bien!” And then she giggled a little and said that it seems everyone knows a little Spanish these days. And then the strangest thing happened – I opened my mouth and all these ridiculous words just fell out of it…words like ‘7 years of Spanish!’ and ‘sad I never got to use it!’ and ‘I understand it way better than I speak it!’.
And of course this made Paulina happy because clearly she’s never met Juanita who apparently is a big fat over-confident Spanish-mumbling liar and so of course Paulina declared that now I am going to practicar mi Español with her every single day now when I go down to get my comida. And then she said something in Spanish complete with tildes and accent marks, something which I think was along the lines of “have a good day”, though it may have been “you have something in your teeth”, I really can’t be certain at this point. And as her double r’s went rolling off her tongue and right over my head, I found myself just standing there staring at her wide-eyed as a little bead of sweat popped out of my left pit. And my face turned red. And I might have hyperventilated a little. And just like that, Juanita was back. And from someone who had just declared that her understanding of Spanish was muy muy bueno, I managed to squeak out “ummm….tu, too…question mark?”
Yep, that’s right. Juanita, Spanish-speaking extraordinaire, said ‘tutu’ and tried to pass it off as a complete sentence in Spanish.
Eh, it was getting too expensive to buy my lunch everyday anyway.