Note No. 29

December 14, 2009

If you need to learn to laugh at yourself, learn a language. My last four years with Spanish are a prime example.

When I first got started in Barcelona, I began conversing through intercambios, during which I would meet with a native Spanish speaker and we would talk in English for half the time and Spanish the other half. My boss, a Peruvian woman, was one of my first partners and one night, I had to cancel our meeting, because “my breasts hurt.”

It was only at the following meeting that I found out I had used the wrong word for sinuses. At that very same meeting, I also told her I liked pussy, because I did not know that to say “with me,” you say conmigo, and so I took the word con, which means “for,” and I paired it with yo, which means “I,” thereby coming up with coño, or “pussy.”


The hilarity continues down in Mexico, except now, it seems to be centering around male anatomy. Several months ago, I was explaining to the furniture maker, a humble and sweet, family-oriented man, that we needed some floor cushions to put around the dipping pool out back.

Me: “So, what we need, really, are some men’s balls.”

Him: “Mmm hm.”

But his face had flinched ever so slightly and I was suddenly horrified to realize I had confused the “i” and the “o”. That is: cojines are cushions; cojones are men’s balls.

I was so flustered, I could barely finish the conversation.

We never got the cushions — nor the men’s balls, thank God.

Yesterday, on my way to visit a friend, I got in the taxi of one of my favorite drivers. The first time I ever rode with him, he taught me the word for party crasher. (I can’t remember what it is now.) Another time, he was dropping me off at the same friend’s house to which I was going yesterday but at the last minute, I had him drop me off a block away instead, so I could first go to the mini market where they sold Negra Modelo, a dark beer which you can only find in certain stores here.

“Getting your party going, I see,” he had said that night.

“Um, yeah, I guess so,” I had replied, thinking that two beers is not really a rager but whatever.

Two nights later, I understood what he had meant when he picked me up again (pure coincidence) and expressed surprise that I was still on the island.

“I had thought you’d be over in Cancun, holding your little placard in front of the camera.”

Apparently, where I had gone for my two bottles of brew was actually a well-known coke den and the night after I had gone in, the feds did a huge bust, arresting every single person on the premises, regardless of what they were doing there. The disclosure made me giggle more than it did sigh with relief, because there is something very Forrest Gumpian about imagining myself caught up in that mayhem.

Fast forward to yesterday and there we are again, having another one of our fantastic conversations.

Him: “Where are you going?”

Me: “To a friend’s — well, you know where I am going.”

Him: “Ah, yes. Your friend across from the house of Los Bolas.”

Thus ensues an explanation of how this family has come to be called such a name, which he does not even seem to fully understand, but there it is: island logic.

So, I go: “Okay, then. Take me to the house of Las Bolas,” but this, of course, causes much laughter, because I have put an “a” where there should be an “o.”

Los Bolas would be a name, kind of like they say Los Simpson for The Simpsons. Las Bolas would be men’s balls. As in: “Take me to the House of the Men’s Balls.

And so my education continues.

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