Clawing to escape the belly of the beast here in Hollywood. To commiserate, email my name assistantatlas at yahoo.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Do You Like It When a Gringo Speaks Spanish?: 5.27

So as you may know, I'm a young globe-trotter. I'm one partially because I wanted to be one, and thus, I can function in at least three languages: English, French and Spanish. Now, mi espanol es terrible. En francais, je suis sur que les persons francophones ne pensent jamais que je suis francais. But I can get by. And the French appreciate that I don't totally massacre their language with my accent, at least. Grammar is a whole 'nother story.

But in fact, I've been told that my French skills are "ghetto-fabuleux" (in Paris, by a semi-permanent expatriate, for the record). And hundreds read this blog every day, so apparently my English is pretty a-okay.

Also, in my globe-trotting adventures, I've discovered that I can communicate with pretty much any European. Period. Because they all know multiple languages. Unlike 90% of Americans. Seriously. Look it up. 90%.

But closer to home, in Los Angeles, I'm more unsure of when to deploy my fledgling language skills.
Sorry, awkward questions.

So readers, what do you think about a gringo speaking Spanish? Take a crack at these situations...

Your landlord sends over three Spanish-speaking guys to fix your air conditioner which is leaking onto, and thus rotting, your cheap, ticky-tacky ceiling tiles. Broken English or broken Spanish to explain the problem?

The valet is getting the car of a flashy guy who's speaking in Spanish to them. Speaking Spanish as well is just patronizing and weird, right? Or is it?

The news announcer lady pronounces her Spanish name like she's never heard English, so shouldn't you?

Your Latino pal switches linguistic sides and goes into rapidfire Oaxaca-Spanish with the guys painting his house while you're touring their work. Is there anything to do but stand there awkwardly?

Honestly, if it was up to me. . . I like practicing my Spanish & Spanglish. I think it's like a bonus of living in Southern California. Like the ocean. Or the fact that I can sample amazing cuisine from dozens, if not hundreds, of cultures in a 20-minute radius. Yeah, like that.

Sorry, I'm just asking because I care about respecting the people around me. That's all.



Blogger Nyssa23 said...

Honestly, I think it's great that you're even asking the question. Asking is always better than making assumptions.

I'm a bit of a rarity--a Latina without a solid command of Spanish--so it pisses me off to no end when people assume from my name or my looks that I speak Spanish and address me that way.

But that's different. If you know for certain someone speaks Spanish, and particularly if they are more comfortable with that language, why not use it? It's a good chance to sharpen your skills, and to show the person in question that you care about communicating with them in a way they can understand.

So, to take your hypothetical situations in the order they were presented, here are my recommendations.

1. Try the broken Spanish first. It might help get the point across, and if nothing else, will tell the workers that there's a good chance you'll understand any trash-talking they might engage in while working.

2. Yes, it's patronizing, unless: a) it's immediately obvious the valet's first and preferred language is Spanish; b) you're a repeat customer and already have a rapport with said valet.

3. Yes, you should. It's so refreshing to hear one's name pronounced correctly. My original last name, although a fairly easy one to pronounce by Spanish standards, has been butchered beyond recognition more times than I can recall.

4. I'm sorry, but in this case you're probably screwed. But at least you might pick up some new words that way.

Hope that helps!

10:30 AM

Blogger queenofattolia said...

Speaking for my people:

1. Dude, a lot of Spanish speakers just like to pretend they don't know English, and are really, really amused at your fractured Spanish. Your call, actually.

2. If the flashy guy's Spanish is good, why would it seem patronizing to speak it to a Spanish-speaking person? Lighten up, white boy.

3. You can if you want. If you don't speak Spanish, no one is going to kick you if you say "Rod-dree-gez" instead of "Roh-dree-ghez." Unless they're ethnocentric assholes, and why would you want to consort with them, anyway?

4. No - tell your Latino friend that it's rude to speak another language around someone who doesn't speak it. And yes, he's probably mocking you w/the housepainters -- it's what we disinfranchised minorities do in the face of gabachos.

Gee, I feel just like the guy who writes "Ask A Mexican!" for the OC Weekly! Hope this helps! XXOO

8:33 PM

Blogger Nyssa23 said...

Ha! Two dissenting viewpoints. I'm not sure how much that helps you, Atlas, sorry! *laugh*

QueenofAttolia--I so envy that "Ask a Mexican" guy his gig. Well, sometimes.

4:40 PM

Anonymous smartass said...

Two cents from a Cuban whose first language is Spanish:

1. Try the broken Spanish. Broken English would be a bit of a mockery and would get you nowhere.

2. Speaking Spanish to the guy is not patronizing at all. I would be flattered that you took the time and effort to speak my language

3. Pronouncing Spanish names in English is just plain silly...not to mention irritating. You don't hear me saying Smit instead of Smith, or Grisual instead of Griswald. So please don't say "coio". It's coƱo. Damnit!

4. Whatever. When the 90% of the gringos who don't know any other language speak in front of people who don't speak English, they rarely consider that their audience is not understanding and launch into their English tirade anyway.

So why should the Oaxaca guy be so deferent? If you're not into learning slang Spanish (which may come in handy in scenarios #1 and #2) then walk out of the room. It may spare your feelings at least...

8:12 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

If you move to a country where 90% of the people only speak english then you should learn and speak english. To not do so is a sign of disrespect to the english speakers, it's not the other way around. The person sending the work crew over should make provisions for dealing with a language problem.
If you don't have full command of spanish then attempting to speak it in a situation when it wasn't necessary would make you look like you're insecure and just trying to fit in.
You should always attempt to speak a persons name correctly. But if you have such a stick up your #%#@ that someone without full command of your language mispronounces your name and it upsets you then you have other problems.
Your Latino pal speaking to the workmen is none of your concern, whether he's speaking english or spanish.
Regarding most Americans only speaking one language, in Europe and many other parts of the world the countries are closer together and knowing more than one language becomes a necessity. If you live in Rabbit Hollow Kansas how much use will you have for French, German or any other language?

2:22 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sure you can get a long way from Rabbit Hollow, knowing only one language - just not too far from Northern America, though.

If I only knew my native tongue (not English), my idea of the bigger picture would be pretty fucking tiny.

And seeing as the founding fathers didn't bother to take up any native dialects, I'd say you 'merkins have a fine old tradition of not learning the local lingo.

3:34 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Most people don't travel far enough to make learning another language necessary, most of whom are quite happy being where they are.
If they moved to another country, then they should learn the language, just as those who come here should learn english.
I find it quite ironic that I am more likely to find someone from Europe or Asia who knows english, yet would have a hard time finding someone coming here from south of the border who has the same command of the english language.
If we're going to look down on the poor stupid Americans who only speak one language, then let's apply the same standard to those who only speak spanish.

4:07 PM

Anonymous CaliforniaƜberAlles said...

Arnold Schwarzenegger, is that you?

LOL. Anonymous (#3) why are you such a total ass?

I wrote a whole bunch of flaming poo for you but decided it would make me look equally ridiculous.

So I'll say this:

1. The United States has no delclared national language. In fact, Federal Government can not declare an official language by federal law.

The End... you whore.

11:47 AM

Anonymous East Villager said...

I know this is an old post, but I came upon it after doing a search for "broken spanish" on google, and I guess I'll leave my two cents just for the heck of it.

I'm a native Spanish speaker (originally from Guatemala). My parents are both Guatemalan, but I learned English since childhood because they always put a lot of emphasis on bilingualism. It's not that they planned on me moving here after college, but they just realized that English is the world's lingua franca, and you need to speak it well if you wish to get ahead this day and age. Which language do you think a, say, Honduran businessman speaks with a Japanese or Swedish trading partner? English, of course.

Look no further than the low-skilled immigrants many like to barrage with demands that they learn English. Those who take the time to learn the new language, and become fluent in it are the ones who eventually become successful entrepreneurs. Those who don't learn English are far less likely to succeed.

Advantageous as it is, however, the choice to learn a new language is entirely private, and it is no "disrespect" to anyone not to learn their native language. Choosing not to learn English is, if anything, a disservice to themselves, not to native-English speakers.

As for your questions...

1) Ask them, in English, which they prefer. If they just stare at you and don't even understand that, then go for Spanish.

2) Like others said, it all depends on the guy's Spanish.

3) Either way... no big deal. Just please, please, please, don't call yourself "Cristobal," "Margarita," etc. if your name is "Chris" or "Margaret." That's just irritating and dumb.

4) Having a long conversation in Spanish while you're standing there is just plain rude.

11:45 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

I 'm gonna say you the truth, sometimes Gringos criticize Latin people for their English but Gringos speak in Spanish terrible, my friend who works in cialis online speaks a terrible Spanish I've never tell him that but that's the reality..

1:42 PM

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