“You no working today?”
“No. I don’t work,” I reply.
“Why you no working? You no like it?”
“No, I stay home. I care for my children,” I respond, using short sentences and simple vocabulary, as I know from experience that it is so much easier to respond this way than to explain that I homeschool my three children and steal moments away from them (and housework) to write when I can.
“Oh, you husband… he rich man?” he asks, with broken English heavily laced with a thick South American accent.
“Yes, my husband is a rich man,” I say, again simply, because I haven’t the words in Spanish to say that my husband’s line of work provides us the opportunity to live on one income.
“Oh, that’s good. You lucky.”
Uh, no, luck has nothing to do with it, but for the purposes of this conversation, I’ll just K.I.S.S and say, “Yes. Yes, I am very lucky.”
…and so it goes, every time I run into this man at the supermarket. Every. Single. Time.
Let’s call him Guillermo (mostly because I like the name, and it suits him). Even though Guillermo reminds me of Guillermo Diaz of the Jimmie Kimmel Show, my Guillermo is not Mexican. He is from Peru, is a womanizer, and has several grown children (all born, I think, in New York), and works at Publix. His weathered face speaks of too many beers, cigars, and domino games with friends on the weekends. As he pushes my grocery cart from the store to my SUV, we rehearse our lines once again, as if preparing for some secret Broadway show that only he and I will ever star.
Guillermo and I have been going on this way for about a year now, and half the time I can’t tell if he’s pulling my leg (he can’t have forgotten my last 100 identical responses to these questions), or if he really does not have anything more to talk about. I am sure there is so much more he’d like to say, just as there is so much more I’d like to explain in my answers, but language is a problem. Although I grew up in a trilingual home, Spanish, unfortunately, was not one of our languages, and thus, the rehearsed conversations with Guillermo.
Like a lot of immigrants I know, Guillermo works hard, has bought the American dream hook, line, and sinker, and tries to the best of his ability to practice and improve his English daily. I don’t mind talking to him, and helping him practice. After all, there really isn’t any better way to learn a language than to regularly speak with friendly native speakers. I’m actually glad to not know Spanish, in this instance, as it would only serve as a crutch in our conversations. And yet, there is still that “teacher’s regret” (so to speak) of not being able to move past what we’ve already established.
Learning a second language is hard. I know as I am currently helping my children learn to speak French using the Pimsleur method. I see how hard they work to enunciate their words, to process the material they are learning, and to try using their new French vocabulary in daily conversation. It is so easy to fall back into English, as it is the primary (and up to now) only language in our home. Strange, I know, as both my husband and I come from multilingual backgrounds. Most people would assume our children fluent in several languages with such a varied and rich cultural heritage, but alas, they only speak and understand English. Ah, well. C’est la vie. What matters is that we are rectifying the situation now.
Like my children, Guillermo will someday be able to move past the clumsily, but earnestly, spoken first words of his newly acquired second language. I wonder what things he will speak of then.
Who are the “characters” you meet in your daily life? What do you do to connect with them? Or perhaps you have had “a random encounter or a fleeting moment with a stranger that stuck with you?” What was your impression? How did the encounter affect your life?
©Norine Acevedo and Norine’s Notebook, 2013