When I'm speaking Spanish at work, native speakers sometimes will compliment me. "Oh, your Spanish is really good, Virginia!" I know that I understand better than I speak, and sometimes I lack the confidence. Often I make a joke that I'm really good at "housing Spanish", if it has to do with leases and rent, I'll totally rock it. But put me in a restaurant and I'd be lost.
Well, I can't make that joke anymore. Yesterday was a late lunch day, with a to-do list as long as my arm. Finally at almost 2pm I was so hungry I might eat anything. So I grabbed my keys and said to Jose, my maintenance man, "I'm going to Maria's Kitchen for some lunch." I knew what I wanted to do, but Jose insisted on walking down there with me. Since work isn't in the greatest of neighborhoods, I acquiesced. But once we got to the restaurant, as we crossed the threshold I entered a different world. One that I speak no English. Before Jose could even order for me, I went to the counter and the lady behind it said hello, what can I get you? And without much thought, I said "Good afternoon. Do you have any pernil today?" "She said that she did, and I said "I'd like that please." She asked if it was for here. Now, here's where I ran into my first roadblock, I had no idea how to say "to go" or "takeaway." Well, if I was in Spain or Mexico, I'd have to make myself understood, right? Figure it out, or go hungry. So I did. It wasn't perfect: "I take to the office." She understood, and I got my to-go box. She asked if I wanted rice, and I said "Of course, and some beans too." (Good Lord, how I love rice and beans!!!) I grabbed a Pepsi from the cooler, and Jose was picking out some ribs. I told the woman that I'd be picking up whatever he was picking out as well. She rang up my order, bagged it up and then took my money, and I said "this is for you" and handed her a tip. Off we go, mission accomplished!
Only when I got outside did Jose tell me....."she asked you if you wanted yellow or white rice, and you just said "yes." So she took a guess, hope you like white." Oops. I didn't hear her say that, it was pretty loud in there. But look! I procured food using the Spanish language!
Important lesson: the language doesn't need to be perfect. I trip over that a lot. She got the jist of what I was saying, and I got the food. With time and practice, it'll get easier.
Next time, I'll get a different food. Pernil is my favorite and they make a mean one, but I already know how to say it.