I am beginning this post with the video above. Being a perfectionist in some areas of my life, I was never happy unless I got straight A’s in school or 100% in everything. The one exception was college algebra, in which I was ecstatic with a grade of B, happy just to have passed the course.
Anyway, I have studied Spanish for many years, and while I can read and write it perfectly well for my needs, my problem is with speaking the language. I despaired of ever being fluent, and then one day I happened upon this video and breathed a huge sigh of relief.
I realized that fluency depends on your situation in which you are speaking, and therefore no one is truly 100% fluent, even in their native tongue. I did perfectly well speaking with adults at our clinic – checking their blood pressure and blood sugar, asking about their medications, were they taking their meds, if not – why not, etc., etc. No major problem at all.
However, when 2 years later I was part of a health fair directed at children to teach them brushing their teeth, washing their hands, healthy eating and exercise, I was at a loss. I was not familiar enough with the vocabulary of dentistry, teeth-brushing, chewing the disclosure tablets, and so on.
And then yesterday I experienced the situation that the speaker in the video referenced – technical vocabulary versus the vocabulary of daily living. I went into Soriana’s and made some purchases. I had already been told by my Mexican bank that if I used my ATM card, I could get cash back without a fee. I handed my card to the cashier and waited to enter my NIP (what Mexicans call the PIN), only it appeared that the machine would be counting it as a credit instead of a debit.
The cashier then said a bunch of words, including the word “efectivo,” which was the only word I recognized. In my mind I was wondering why she was saying the word “cash” when I gave her my card and she had the card and machine, so I could not read what she was referring to. After a minute or two of me not understanding her – I kept saying something about the NIP and she kept telling me no – she completed my purchase and gave me my receipt.
On the way back home on the bus, it suddenly hit me and I had a strong urge to smack myself really hard on my forehead and call myself stupid. She was asking me if I wanted cash back!!!! I HAD wanted cash back but wasn’t familiar with how such a conversation was conducted….
I relayed all this to Lourdes, so my Spanish lesson last night consisted of play-acting all possible conversations at a checkout counter. I also learned some differences between Mexico and the U.S. In the U.S. sometimes customers are asked if they want to donate to a particular cause and have it added onto their bill. Here in Mexico, they simply ask you if you want your bill rounded up. I was told the answer to that is “for whom?” If they say for the store, my answer should be “no,” but if they mention a cause, such as an organization that fights cancer, I can say “yes.” The other thing is that we tip the people bagging our groceries here, a couple of pesos each and also tip the people who work in the parking lot. In addition, I learned how to get a Soriana store card and get points on purchases.
So that is our lesson for the day – fluency itself is a very fluid concept, and even though I had a smack myself-in-the-head moment, remembering the video calmed me down and let me realize what I had to do to prepare for the future.