Friday, January 4, 2013

Pretty Coca-Cola and Avocado Milk on the Side, Please.

Cuenca, Ecuador
Written by Karen.
Today we were at the Terminal Terrestre, Cuenca's main bus station, researching options for the next leg of our trip. It was hot and muggy, and due to a neighbor having a loud conversation at 3:15 a.m., we were both lagging just a bit.  

Adam, in particular, had been on the lookout for most of the afternoon for any shop that sold Coca-Cola.  But for one reason or another, he had been denied.  He suddenly stopped dead in his tracks when he spied a cooler full of soft drinks in the bus station. He asked the clerk behind the counter, "¿Tiene Coca-Cola?" "Sí, we have Coca-Cola," she replied as she opened the cooler door showing Adam several different sizes of Coca-Cola, "Which one do you want?" Adam replies, "Bonita Coca-Cola, por favor," thinking that he had said, "Un poco, por favor, or the little one, please,"  Both the clerk and I did a double take before we started laughing.  Adam quickly catches on and says, "On days like this when I am desperate for a coke, those little bottles all look mighty pretty!"  We all laughed together.  The clerk was still laughing as we walked off.

It's a humbling experience learning a new language through immersion since we are making some pretty funny statements as we put together more complete and complex sentences.  You can't take it personally - after all - we are learning, but you do have to laugh at yourself when you say something wrong or ask for the wrong thing.  And, predictably, we are laughing quite often!

Just this morning, we were at one of our favorite breakfast cafes.  It is about a mile from our apartment, so it is a bit of a walk, but this cafe knows how to do coffee.  So, on those days - like today - when we have had major interruptions to our regular sleeping patterns, we make the long walk to this cafe. 

Both in Colombia and in Ecuador, café con leche (coffee with milk) means hot milk with a little coffee added. However, I have found that this particular cafe will provide heated milk on the side to go with a large mug of café negro, or black coffee, if asked.

I'm giving my breakfast order and get to the coffee part, and say, "Leche aguacate en el lado, por favor."  (Avocado milk on the side, please)  I had meant to say, "Leche caliente en el lado, por favor." (Hot milk on the side, please) Adam and the waitress looked at me funny and then the waitress asks, "¿Que?" I start to repeat my request.  Maybe I had mixed up the order of the words?  But, no. When I started to say the sentence over again, I heard the mistake. The waitress started laughing and brought over the other waitress to tell her the story.  Everyone had a good laugh, including myself.  

When we left the cafe, she was still laughing when we said, ¡Hasta luego! or See you later!   

We have had many of these types of experiences over the past two months that we have been in South America. This past week, I ordered an extra side of french fries since the waiter misunderstood my question of whether the hamburger that I had just ordered came with fries.  We got off a bus recently because the bus driver misunderstood our question asking what time the bus was scheduled to leave.  He thought we were asking how long the bus ride was, and when he answered 50 minutes we could not bear to wait that long sitting in a hot bus.  

Of course, we know that we are causing these small misunderstandings due our lack of Spanish language skills. But none of these small misunderstandings are serious. We can eat another side of fries - particularly with Ecuadoran aji (salsa) - and we can always catch another bus.  

What we have most appreciated from these experiences is not only do we learn from them, but each of these experiences have caused us to relate with a local on a human and personal level.  Laughter can break down all sorts of walls and can start positive and empathetic relationships.  

Fortunately, we can laugh at ourselves and the silly things that can come out of our mouths sometimes.  Fortunately, every native Spanish speaker that we have interacted with has been kind and patient when we have stumbled.  Fortunately, soon enough we will become better Spanish speakers, and we'll all have to look for new entertainment! 


Anonymous said...

Laughing at your avocado milk flub has made my day. I'm really enjoying your travels very much.

Jim Gibson [Kim Patyk's dad]

David in SF said...

For me, i'd probably find it easier to laugh at my mistakes *after* i got my coffee, but that's just me i suppose!

Soon you'll be speaking like a native, and then can laught at/with the rest of us who aren't so good :)

Observers of Life said...

Hi Jim!

Great to hear from you! We went back to the cafe a few days later, and I nailed it! :) The only avocado was in the egg scramble. I'm glad to hear that you're enjoying the ride!


Observers of Life said...

Hi David!

I don't know if we'll be speaking like a native anytime soon! But, we are having a lot of fun while we learn! :)