…when you speak Spanish like a 5-year-old.
One of my good friends from my MBA program is originally from Chile, and recently moved from Mexico City to Kentucky due to a change with her husband’s job. (Now THAT would be a “cultural differences” blog I would LOVE to read!!) Since we no longer get to spend hours in class together every other weekend, we chat regularly online via MSN Messenger. It’s usually a mix of Spanish & English, depending on a) how rapidly I am trying to convey a point, b) how much pity Carolina takes on me, and c) how good I am about remembering that I need to be practicing Spanish whenever I can.
While instant messaging in another language certainly isn’t as challenging as a spoken conversation, it definitely trips me up more than writing emails. On the downside, you lose some of the visual cues & the ability for the other person to sense when you aren’t following. On the good side, you have a little more time to comprehend & react, as well as look things up on my favorite site ever, www.wordreference.com. That said, when you’re trying to keep a chat flowing without long, awkward pauses, you don’t really have time to pull up your Spanish/English dictionary for every word you’re not sure about.
Anyway, yesterday I shot an IM off to Carolina around noonish. She told me she was heading off to meet her husband for lunch, and was amused to tell me that they were heading to a Mexican restaurant in Kentucky (clearly hub of authentic Mexican food).
To interject another point here– I guess I always assumed that all of Latin America was alike in its fondness for spicy food. After meeting folks from various countries in South America this past year, I now realize that is not the case. Lots of South Americans not only are not big fans of spicy salsas & the like, but really tend not to use any hot spices in their foods at all. Carolina falls into this category, and hence always found it a challenge here in Mexico City, where it often feels like 99% of food is enchilado (seasoned with chili). Even candy here comes rolled through chili– she regaled me with stories from Halloween about trying to wash all the chili powder off half the candy her son received during his trick-or-treating efforts. (What happened to a good old Kit-Kat, people?)
Cutting back to yesterday- Carolina had already said goodbye in our chat window, so I knew if I had any parting comments I had to make them quick (i.e. no time for checking www.wordreference.com, folks). Attempting to whip off a witty one liner, I typed “Avoid the hot spices!” in Spanish…or so I thought. As I began typing I thought to myself, “Hmm not really sure how to say spiciness as a noun, only as an adjective, but I’ll give it my best effort and I’m sure she’ll get the idea”. So I went with “Evita el pico!!!”
And so it was that I told my friend to “Avoid the penis!” at her lunch with her husband. Apparently “el pico” is slang for penis in Chilean. Damn.
To quote from our messenger window, her reaction was something along the lines of:
pico means “Pene” in Chilean
I was pleased to note that I did conjugate the imperative “tu” form of evitar correctly, but apparently congratulating me for that point escaped her notice. 😉 For future reference, picante is the word I wanted to use. I attempted to recover with “Pues, probablemente debes evitar eso durante la comida tambien…” (Well you should probably avoid that during the lunch too…) She informed me that she would try, but her husband probably wouldn’t be happy.
In summary, let me offer my recommendation of instant messaging with native speakers as a supplementary tool for anyone learning Spanish. It definitely helps improve your reaction time, introduces you to some slang you probably wouldn’t learn in class, and gives you a much better venue to erroneously tell people to “avoid the penis” than at, say, a business lunch.