Friday, October 2, 2009

Sharing: Bad Times I Have Known

In a follow up from yesterday, I thought I ought to dig up some Memorably Bad Expatresse Moments.

Here is one from Bratislava in 2001.

I wasn't blogging when we lived in Buenos Aires (late 1999 to March 2001), but I don't need to refer to any notes to recall The Incident at the Meat Counter.

I spoke a little Spanish when we arrived, having spent some time in Miami and taking a few classes while we lived there. But the Argentine accent really threw me for a loop. It took a while for me to understand anyone (not unlike my time at the Glasgow Airport Holiday Inn), especially in the shops and on the streets (by that, I mean that watching the news on TV wasn't too bad). But I took lessons twice a week and felt I made progress quickly. I enjoy Spanish and found it rewarding and relatively easy to learn.

As is typical when one studies a language, one day you understand everything and start to feel really good about yourself. Then the next day you don't get a word and feel about as verbal as the family dog.

This happened to me at the meat counter of our local grocery store.

The name of the store chain was Disco, as I recall. Until I realized that all Argentine housewives send the maid to the grocery store, I used to go myself. I often bought chicken. This involved talking to the the Disco employee behind the meat counter. I had accomplished this task, with no hitches, many times.

But for some reason, on this particular day, instead of just weighing and handing me my chicken breasts, the woman behind the counter, this awful, nasty woman wearing more bright blue eye shadow than Mimi Bobeck on The Drew Carey Show, upon hearing my request, said, "Mwwhha, mwa hwa huh eh?"

My regular trick, when I don't understand something someone has said in a foreign language, is to suggest I could not hear them by putting my hand behind my ear. This I did.

She repeated, ""Mwwhha, mwa hwa huh eh?"

All I got was radio static. I asked her to repeat it one more time.


Zip. Zilch. Nada. I got nuthin'

She sighed loudly, ROLLED HER EYES, and packaged up my chicken. It looked like every other package of chicken I had purchased at Disco. I had NO idea what she was on about, but I felt awful and the whole thing made me cry.

Later, when I told The Spouse about the Mean Lady with the Awful Blue Eye Shadow at the Disco, he hugged me and said something very kind and very wise.

He told me, "Beets, your Spanish is going to continue to improve, you know? And she's still gonna be pushin' chickens at the Disco."

It was, perhaps, one of the sweetest things he's ever said to me.


valentina said...

So what I wanna know is, since when did he call you "Beets"? Just curious! xov

valentina said...

Jeez, that B'lava meltdown was sooooooo long ago! 2001!! And you survived! Actually you all flourished! Brava! xov

The Expatresse said...

Another reader called me "Beets" in a comment. I liked it.

Anonymous said...

Did you ever figured out what that woman was saying?
I had one experience which remains a mystery to me for years. It was long time ago, I was walking on the quite street in Cleveland Heights (it should set the scene) with my baby son in the stroller, we just dropped his older sister in school. Young man approached us and asked me a question, I did not understand the question and thought it is always safe to reply "Thank you" (I could say that much in English by that time) when addressed while carrying cute baby. Boy, was I wrong! The man eyes went wild he backed up in horror and quickly crossed the street looking back at me couple of times. I was pretty upset about the accident. And even so it makes no difference, I keep coming back to it every now and than thinking - what in the word was his question. Any guesses?

The Expatresse said...

Olga: I still have no idea. I thought maybe it was "boneless? skinless?" something like that except all they had on display was what I wanted. Something to do with how she packaged it? Or if I wanted to cut into pieces? No one ever asked me anything at the meat counter ever again, so I never figured it out.

As for your young man . . . maybe he wanted the time. or directions. And your response just made him think you were Crazy Lady since you didn't look like someone who would not understand him?

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