Thursday, December 25, 2008

¿Un botellazo, por favor?

I used to think that English was the right language, the only language. That everyone else translated their languages into English in their heads. I would hear instructions to put on my zapatos and in image of my pink Velcro light up shoes would pop into my head. Zapatos = shoes.

I remember my first time traveling to Mexico at six years old. We walked around shopping centers and I watched as families spoke rapidly with each other, and I wondered how quickly they translated the words in their heads before they spewed out new Spanish conversation. It only made sense that everyone thought in English. As I read the bright orange neon sign at the mall I knew that Zapatería = shoe store.

At seven years old I picked up French, and stared learning Hebrew shortly after that. It never occurred to me that the languages were interchangeable, that I could translate French to Spanish, Hebrew to French, Spanish to American Sign Language. English was always the right language. The only language. The other ones were just fluff.

As I got older, I had my share of Madams, Señoras, and גברתים, and at some point I realized that the extra languages were not so much superfluous but more of a way to see a different part of the world, a different way that people lived. I realized that not everyone thinks that way I do, and that language was just one way to demonstrate that.

Botellazo. It just doesn’t exist in English however it is absolutely my favorite word. Its meaning? To hit with a bottle. That’s it. Short and sweet. Botellazo. Si no me haces un pastel, te diré un botellazo. If-you-don’t-make-me-a-cake,-I’ll-hit-you-on-the-head-with-a-bottle just doesn’t sound nearly as good in English. Or as cool.

The other day while I was waiting for the train, a bunch of city workers jumped out of a truck, decked out in luminescent green snowsuits and armed with snow shovels, and started shoveling the path down to the train tracks. One of them started singing “Me duele, me duele, me duele…” and I smiled as the rest joined in, feeling bad that they had to do all this work while I just stood there in my ski jacket with the fur hood pulled up to keep me warm. It’s possible that I may have been staring, envisioning what my life would be like had I emigrated from Mexico, left everything I had just to move snow all winter and cut grass all summer. “Grosera,” I heard one of them yell over the noise of the oncoming train. I hadn’t meant to be rude at all, and I’m not sure if it was directed at me, but I responded “Feliz Navidad” and I saw the worker smile as I hopped on the train.

It’s scary not to know what’s going on. Not to know what everyone is saying, what they’re doing, what they want you to do. I too, am guilty, of watching Telemundo and forgetting that the rest of the company with me on the couch does not understand a word of the ongoing Telenovela. I sometimes speak in Spanish, not thinking, and realize that no one around me understands what I just said. My dog es bilingüe, como yo but somehow I forget that I cannot always just talk AT people when I want to talk TO them. People, unlike dogs, have conversation, responding and listening, and people, think in a specific language.

Everyone is different. Some of us think in English, some of us dream en español, and others translate Italiano to Deutsch without even thinking. But no way is wrong. Everyone has her own language, her own way of thinking and hoping and wishing and being, and that is exactly what makes the world interesting.

1 comment:

Charles said...

actually, this post pretty well sums up my views on linguistics.

also- botellazo- best word in any language ever. with no equivalent, darling.