Que? Que? Like Manuel from Fawlty Towers, that’s how I often feel here in the Dominican Republic. When I don’t understand, which is almost 100% of the time, it amuses me no end when they just keep repeating themselves. Maybe faster, they seem to think. That will make her understand. Or louder.
What I do understand is how newcomers to Canada feel. People talking at them, many with accents different than theirs. Accents we have a lot of trouble trying to decipher, imagine accent on accent. Many years ago I worked at the Yacht Club in Vancouver and many of my co-workers were from all over the world, many just there to have a working vacation, some there to learn or improve their English. One woman, fresh from Scotland had such a thick accents most of us had a really difficult understanding her. When she told me one day her boyfriend was from Australia, I said it must be chaos just trying to have a conversation. What? Sorry? The boat? Who, now? I didn’t really catch her reply.
Native speaking Canadians use many words that newcomers didn’t likely learn. We fall into our own slang with friends or co-workers and that just makes it even more confusing. Last night I was out with a new friend here in Santo Domingo. He spent a summer, perhaps longer in the United States working in a hotel restaurant learning English and just enjoying life. Great experience for a Dominican lad of eighteen. So while he knows English, as do many Dominicans I have encountered, they know English, but not my English. You do adapt quickly, learning to trim sentences and requests.
I have met a few cab drivers here who know a bit of English and I often call them when I need to have more than just a few grunts of my bastardised Spanish. One guy is so great, he comes in to stores or businesses with me to interpret if I need. Fortunately, many places have at least someone who can help.
So, my new friend was asking me how I got about the city, when I need Spanish, so when I told him I take a cab driver with me or write it out from the computer translator or if really stuck just stand there until someone either helps me or the store closes. It must be very hard for you. Yes, it can be, but so far, so good.
It’s like misheard lyrics in a song. “Excuse me while I kiss this guy”, the Jimmie Hendrix famous misquote. It comes down to this; When people try to help me it absolutely overwhelms me with joy. I never get upset if they don’t know much English, I should know Spanish. I mean, I do live here and I do know a few words and can usually understand what someone is asking me, mostly at the grocery store. Do I have coupons?
If you see someone struggling, try to help. No one expects you to know German or Urdu, but try. A bit of gesturing or interpretive dance can go alone way. It’s mostly how I survive.
There was a printing house very close to me in Calgary when I was living there, back when dinosaurs still roamed the earth. I had been in several times, mostly just to get my resume copied. One of my biggest occupations has been job hunting. One day I walked in with a manilla envelope with my resume and I placed it on the counter, pulled it out and asked for ten copied please. There were two woman standing there and one of them, of Chinese descent said back to me, “Coffees? We don’t sell coffees here!”
I stood there, a bit confused and a bit more just gobsmacked. I’m pretty sure my jaw was agape. I looked over to the other woman, who was not of Chinese descent. She looked like she was a full-bred Cranky descent. I looked at her to see if this was just some little joke this lady did, ha ha copy/coffee, oh, how we laughed.