first impressions of mexico

The good news is that I’ve never spoken so much French in my life. It was my family’s native tongue growing up, and I took five years of it in junior high and high school, but I’ve let my French grow rusty with time. Now I find myself speaking French all the time — a word dropped in here, a full sentence blurted out there.
The bad news is that I’m supposed to be learning Spanish.
I’m staying with a family, Norma and Joel, who live in what I suppose would be Morelia’s suburbs. Seem like nice enough folks, and they’ve got two cute grandkids who pop in and out — one of whom, Eddie, is always dressed up as Spider-Man and tries to play cowboys and Indians with a bottled-water dispenser as a gun. Their house is a 30-minute walk from my language school, which means I’m getting a nice workout. Particularly since Norma insists I come home for lunch — something I’ve tried to fight with little success — which means I’m walking a good two to three hours every day. The health benefits of walking should nicely make up for the health drawbacks of walking — namely, the exhaust-thick air I have to breathe while hitting the sidewalks.
Morelia is really a lovely town. Its center is 20 or 30 blocks of old stone buildings from Spanish colonial days, which look lovely and old. The exteriors are pleasant, but it’s the dramatic interiors that really hit you — they add a sense of theater to the lowliest bodega. Once you get past the center, the next concentric circle is still centuries-old, but more commercial — narrow streets, buildings flush to the traffic, and a real small-town Spain feel. Then, beyond that, you get unspectacular tract homes (like Norma and Joel’s) and, finally, the malls, where you can Pizza Hut to your heart’s content.
School is going well. I’m in class four hours a day, all of it one-on-one with a teacher. They rotate the teachers each hour so you can’t get too bored with any of them. The first day felt like a cruel joke — I’m all for immersion, but not understanding a word your teacher says for minutes at a time isn’t heartening. But I’m picking things up quickly. (Damn those irregular verbs! Almost makes you understand the desire for Esperanto.) Tonight was “conversation club,” in which we pale Americans are teamed up with Morelians who are learning English and chat in both languages. Strangely, I fared better in the English-speaking portion of the conversation.
My teachers view me as equal parts imbecile and prodigy. Okay, maybe 70 percent imbecile. The prodigy part comes up when they ask me to read stories in one of the Morelian newspapers — without fail, I can understand and summarize everything in them. Sometimes I can even critique the quality of the editing. They think this makes me a genius. In fact, it just means I’ve spent the last seven years newspapering — and that newspaper writing is so predictable, so standardized in structure, that it could be in Martian and I’d still get the gist of it.
The imbecile stuff stems from my ignorance of the Spanish alphabet, the days of the week, any number past 10, and all the other things that six-year-olds learn in preparation for their classroom’s Cinco de Mayo celebration. Oh, that and my complete inability to roll an “r” without summoning the phlegm of a thousand emphysemics. I swear, a nice name like “Herrera” trips off the tongue just fine in the States; here, I get sucked into the drama of the moment and start a series of tongue-and-throat spasms — haaiRRRRerrrRRRrRrRrrrrrahhhh. I sound like an agonized daschund with a bone stuck in its throat. I’m a dipthong away from choking on my own tonsils. It’s embarrassing, and I’m not easily embarrassed.
Even if I don’t learn 10 words of Spanish in Morelia, I hope I can come away from this trip with a half-servicable command of all the language’s consonants.

One thought on “first impressions of mexico”

  1. This has all the makings of a Sedaris send-up. Embarrasado means “pregnant” in Spanish. Just so you know….

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