Comedy Whirled

Just thought I'd share a small (very tiny, so as not to bore the socks off you) excerpt from the novel I have been working on.  It's not much, but lately I've been picking up some steam on it, and would like to finish the first draft before the end of the year.


Before embarking on our trip to Costa Rica, Rick had assured me that his Spanish was more than sufficient to get us through any situation that might crop up.  I had taken two years of Spanish in high school, which prepared me not one iota to carry on a rudimentary conversation with a toddler.  I’m still unsure as to how Mr. Fistermeister had procured the position of Spanish teacher, but I’m assuming some level of dishonesty concerning his credentials must’ve been the case.  Most days he would have  to consult Jose, one of the students in class, to clarify a word, pronunciation or just basic grammar.  Two years of his incompetence and we never even made it to the past tense.

Unfortunately, I quickly discovered that Rick’s mastery of Spanish was not much better than mine.  Oh, he could write it well enough, provided his Spanish dictionary was handy and he had an infinite amount of time to figure the correct conjugations and cases.  In one hotel, when leaving laundry on the bed to be cleaned, he labored over the note to put on top of the pile, so the maid would know what to do.  After about 30 minutes and twenty crumpled attempts in the trash later, I suggested, “How about just writing Ropa Sucia,”  which meant dirty clothes?  I had learned at least that much from Mr. Fistermeister—or was it Jose?  But oh no, that wouldn’t do.  Complete, grammatically correct sentences were required.  I’m not sure why it was so important to him to impress some hotel maid we would never even meet.  I finally got tired of waiting, and went downstairs to get some breakfast, taking a stroll afterwards.  When I got back to the room an hour or so later, he was still at it.
To make matters worse, he had a theory.  I believe he picked it up from some travel guide.  Basically it consisted of trying to look like you’re trying really hard to speak the language, giving it your all.  The native speaker, appreciating the effort, will then be more inclined to offer aid.  Actually, not bad advice, if you think about it.  Unfortunately, Rick took it to the extreme.  I suppose he thought that by enhancing the effort, he would make up for his complete lack of oral mastery.  It was always painful to witness.
One of these productions occurred during the bus ride from San Jose to Playa Manuel Antonio.  As we neared our destination, Rick wanted to ask the bus driver what the schedule was for buses returning to San Jose.  First, he would contort his face in the most grotesque way possible, to show the sheer effort he was going through to come up with the correct word or phrase.  Then he would thrust his hands skyward, looking up to the heavens for divine guidance.  He would cap the performance by hitting himself upside his head, actually trying to dislodge the stubborn word from his brain.  This sequence would be repeated for every word he didn’t know—which was pretty much all of them.  The only thing he really managed to convey was that he was obviously someone whose mental stability had become permanently unhinged.  I saw fear in the eyes of the poor bus driver as Rick went through his antics—and complete relief when we reached our destination, and the crazy gringo disembarked.  I waited before getting off, in the hopes of fooling everyone that I did not know him.

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Comment by KariGrant on April 11, 2011 at 11:12pm
Congrats on starting the novel! Good to see all my old pals. I'm in excellent condition for the shape I'm in. Lol! The pacemaker helps. I went blind in the middle of my left eye which interferes with my typing bigtime. Other than that...I'm sure there's a pony here somewhere!
Comment by Donairs on March 31, 2011 at 4:30pm

Coming from a city where half the population speaks French, I've often been tempted to utter a few French words to French cashiers while concluding my purchase; however I have yet to do so, and this excerpt from your novel has confirmed my fears as to why I shouldn't.


Good read, looking forward to more.

Comment by Gerhardguffaw on March 31, 2011 at 11:29am

Thanks for sharing.  I'd probably be like Rick, being anal about every little detail of a note I wrote.  I just started a new job and I notice that I'm double and triple checking things to make sure I'm not making a mistake.

Good luck with your novel.

Comment by MacSpruce on March 31, 2011 at 3:21am
Thanks for sharing that, Bubba. The language barrier is a problem everyone who has ever travelled abroad can appreciate. It helps that most exchanges revolve around such basic human needs as food, shelter, transportation and the like, and so they can usually be puzzled out without too much difficulty. Pantomime plays a very important role in these exchanges. And when you're clenching your butt cheeks together with all your might and urgently seeking directions to the nearest toilet, correct grammar and pronunciation become very secondary considerations.
Comment by Jams3kds on March 30, 2011 at 9:11pm
Really good stuff Bubba, sounds like just one day of dealing with this inept translator could yield several chapters by itself. Ole'.
Comment by Ian on March 28, 2011 at 8:18pm
He sounds like an actor without a lens.  Costa Rica summoned me years ago and once assimilated, Tican is actually simpler and more direct than the Spanish we learned in High School.  All-night Fuseball and daily earthquakes became de-rigueur, but six months in it was the Guaro that finally scared me home.

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