Everyone here in South America seems to speak at least a little English, and they all seem happy to help us figure out how to communicate.
I’ve chosen to be particularly careful using my limited Spanish vocabulary. Because, you see, most of the Spanish I know was learned on the playground at Alice Birney Elementary School courtesy of classmates Freddie Ayala and Johnny Sierra. Only later did I learn that most of the phrases they taught me involved sex acts. Primarily with other people’s mothers.
But I swear to God that I never knew the meanings of these phrases until I sat down and looked them up online a few years ago. And, unfortunately, many of the phrases were idioms that had no literal translations. For example, if you plug them into Google Translate, it will kick back a combination of words that make no sense or seem completely innocuous.
Since I learned these phrases as a child, saying them had become second nature to me. Although I didn’t know the precise English translations, I sort-of understood how to weave them into conversation because of their situational usage. And long after Alice Birney Elementary School had been left behind, I often muttered those phrases under my breath when the situations deemed it appropriate.
I have some very dear friends who are Puerto Rican. They are dignified and gentle people. I was having dinner at their home one night when I suddenly (and inexplicably) decided they would be the perfect people to help me understand the true meanings of words and phrases I had been using since childhood.
So I asked my friend if he could translate some of the Spanish phrases I didn’t understand.
“Of course,” he replied.
So I blurted out one of the phrases I had been taught by Freddie and Johnny back at good ol’ Alice Birney.
My friend’s eyes bugged out in horror. He and his wife were aghast that I would utter such words at their dinner table and, even worse, in front of their children.
I plowed ahead stupidly, oblivious to their clear discomfort, and asked again what the words meant. They blushed. They looked around uncomfortably. Beads of sweat began to break out on their foreheads. They shushed me and pointed surreptitiously at their children as if to say, “Not in front of the kids.”
And that brings me to this abject apology:
I apologize to my friends for whatever foul words I may have spoken at their dining room table. And I also profusely apologize to anyone whose mother’s virtue I have inadvertently denigrated over the years.
But please don’t blame me. Blame those garbage mouths Freddie and Johnny. A couple of damn troublemakers if you ask me.