Saturday, May 12, 2007

Lost in translation (Helen)

Some things just don't get translated due to context clues. For example, it is almost impossible to order a cup of hot tea. My latest (but not only) example of this was while Jon and Taneya were here. We were out for dinner and I asked for a cup of té. People here do not drink tea with their dinner so the waiter didn't understand what I was saying. He assumed I was making pleasant small talk that he didn't understand and therefore I got no tea. I asked again, he didn't understand, I spelled it, still no entiendes. Taneya was saying "bebida" (beverage). I was saying aqua calliente con tè. Nothing. He went to get the manager, and by then we had written it down. Té. Oh! Tè! Then the waiter brought me my tea and very politely said "disculpa" (excuse me). I think I am the only person he has ever served a cup of hot tea to at dinner time.

Today I was buying a small gift for my granddaugher Leah. The nice man asked me what the name of my granddaugher was. I said "Leah". He asked me again, very clearly.


Now a woman joined in, and in her few english words explained to me that he was asking the name of my nieta.

Ella nombre es "Leah".

They very politely gave up. It took me hours to figure out that they thought I was saying something like "it read", the past tense of "to read" - leía. The name Leah is not used here, so they did they best they could.

Today I was paying for groceries and the total was 25.27. I gave her a hundred peso note plus 30 centavos. My change was supposed to be 75.03, but they don't give pennies, so I expected just 75 pesos back. She gave me 75.10. I gave her back the 10 centavos because that seemed more fair to me. Her response was a very sweet, somewhat confused, "gracias". When Ken and I left the store we figured out that she thought I had tipped her 10 centavos! Good grief, how embarassing! Who tips a dime?

This context clue thing works both ways. The first time I was asked "un pago?" when using a credit card, I had no idea what they were asking me, even though I understood the words "one pay". I just didn't have reference for such a question. But here it is very common to charge an item and have it charged to your credit card in several equal payments. I can't imagine how that system plays out by the end of the credit year.

Also, just an aside. Ken and I rode an elevator up and down twice the other day because we couldn't figure out how to get out of it.


Kat Acosta said...

How funny! I can just picture you and Ken riding the elevator up and down. I am sure you will be chuckling about that for a long time!

emilyeffinconrad said...

okay the elevator bit is the best thing EVER.

Caroline G said...

The elevator escapade does sound like something out of sketch comedy, like Mr. Bean or something. Rowan Atkinson wasn't in there with you, was he?? (Possibly naked and embarrassed, holding a welcome mat over his private parts?)

Can't wait to see you when we get back from Greece in mid June! Start a fire in the back yard and we'll be there.

Hugs to both of you,

Chas said...

I'm coming to the conclusion that it's largely about subtleties of pronunciation. I had the same experience in Paris, trying to get some butter. The French word for butter is beurre. There's no way to spell its pronunciation phonetically, but the closest I can come is "boor." But "boor" is definitely NOT what I said to this waiter -- I believe I said "beurre." But he looked at me blankly. I may have even mimed spreading it on my croissant, I don't know (it was 17 years ago), but I wasn't saying anything he recognized as French. I've suspected all these years that he was just being a you-know-what because I was so obviously American. But I have to admit, in retrospect, it's also possible I just didn't know how to pronounce that one-syllable word in a way that matched what the French are used to hearing.

A Guatemalan co-worker of mine (who's been here about 40 years) was telling me what another guy had done, and he was saying a name that sounded like Maury. I'm like... "Who?" "Maury." I'm staring at him blankly. He thought he was saying "Marty." But he just wasn't, my friends, he was saying "Maury." He probably thinks I'm deaf.

PS: I laughed out loud at your elevator story.

miss tango in her eyes said...

Novio says it is the law to round up your change when the store does not have the exact change. Por ejemplo: if your change from your bill is 75.03 they must give you 75.10 or 75.05.