I consider myself bilingual, but I do admit to not having full command of the Spanish language. My parents don’t speak English so Spanish was the language of my childhood. However, as I got older and spent more time outside the home, English became my language of choice. I still speak Spanish regularly, especially with my two daughters, but I am very much aware that my vocabulary is lacking. There are some words and concepts my parents just never shared with me. I have to admit, though, my Cuban pride has on several occasions made me a little too confident and led to many embarrassing moments.
For example, the time I told my parents a friend of mine had tripped and fallen, making her school uniform skirt go flying up and revealing her underpants for all to see. I told them how she ran into her car “embarazada.” Or the time I tried to make play dough from scratch and had to ask my mami, the least baking inclined person I know, for “flor.” (Flower versus flour.) Both instances resulted in lots of explaining on my part and laughter on my parents side of things.
The worst ever was when I worked at a local pharmacy. It was a summer job where I sat at the register reading murder-mysteries and waiting for the locals to come pick up their prescriptions and some vee-va-po-roo. One day while enjoying my latest paperback, a middle-aged guy came up to the register. Hands in his pocket, he said hello and sheepishly asked, “Donde tienen los preservativos?” Hmm, I thought to myself. Preservatives? Oh, no he must mean preserves like peanut butter and jelly preserves. Don’t ask what led me to this line of thinking but it’s how my mind works sometimes. To be sure, I asked him again what he was looking for. He repeated himself and I set off to rummage the shelves. I couldn’t remember ever stocking jelly on the shelves but being a Latino pharmacy, I figured it was worth a look. He followed me as I searched the shelves and again, I said, “Preservativos, verdad?”
After dragging the poor guy around the store for about five minutes and having him repeat a few more times what he was looking for, I finally decided to ask Lorenzo, the pharmacist. The guy waited by the register while I whispered to Lorenzo, “I think I might have misunderstood this guy.” I explained how I had translated his request for preservativos into preserves. Lorenzo kindly held back a burst of laughter and told me the guy was looking for condoms! I wanted to crawl into a hole at that moment. This story one goes down in the history books for me.
I have learned to keep my dictionary close at hand!