I don’t like being wrong, but I like learning things.
These twin statements become reality when I am corrected on some nugget of knowledge that I had long accepted as fact.
Today’s appropriate example is the shamrock. A shamrock is a young clover, has three leaves, and is the symbol of Ireland.
However, I am chagrined to see that I was not the only person who had this misconception.
Misconceptions can arise even when you are stepped in the culture that you misunderstand. Such an event arose with my lovely wife when we were living in Peru a few years back.
This is her story.
It was July in 2011 and it was time for dinner. Having heard so much about one particular chicken place, we decided to order in from Pardo’s Chicken. From the get-go, I knew I was going to like this place. First off, the reputation of Peruvian chicken precedes itself as it has a big name and a following in the States. Secondly, any business named after one of my favorite announcers, Don Pardo, is aces in my book. (Yes, I have favorites announcers…the other two are Gary Owens and Vin Scully. See I like things in threes.)
When my lovely wife used our phone to call Pardo’s, all was going according to the usual ordering-in script.
Until it wasn’t.
She told the person on the other end of the phone which promotional meal we wanted and the Pardo’s order-taker told her what the total would be. It was the next question that threw my wife. She kept asking the person to repeat the question and then she looked at me with a perplexed look as she said, “They’re asking me how I want to cancel my order. Why would I cancel my order?”
Now, my lovely wife speaks and understands Spanish flawlessly so there was no issue concerning the language barrier here. There was something in what the Pardo’s representative was saying that was causing a mix-up.
What the woman on the other end of the line was asking was ¿Como va a cancelar?, which does literally translate to “How will you cancel?” With this question being posed to my order-placing wife, you can see her dilemma.
This is where using the past as a guide would have come in handy. In only a quartet of days of living in Peru, we had come across a few examples of Spanish words that Peruvians use to describe things that are different from the Spanish words my family and I are used to. Just for appetizers, the name of the langauge itself is different. We call it Español, but in Peru, they speak Castellano. Moving on to the salad course, we call an avocado aguacate, but in Peru it is known as palta. Here at the main course, a waiter in Peru is known as mozo, but we know it as mesero. Finishing up with the dessert course on this linguistic menu, we have discovered that a peach is called melocotón in Lima, where we know it as durazno.
This concept of a shared language dividing two people was hitting our little tableaux. As my lovely wife tried to understand what the Pardo’s woman was saying, the order-taker asked in a tone and style similar to explaining math to a first-grader, ¿Como va a pagar?, which comes out to be “How will you pay?”
Peru Travel Tip: When ordering over the phone, the phrase ¿Como va a cancelar? means (roughly), “How will you be paying (cancelling out) your bill?” The company wants to know what type of bills you will be paying with so they know how much change to send along with the driver.
Once my wife told the woman that we would paying with two 50 soles notes, this misconception was resolved and all was well. The food arrived earlier than expected, the chicken skin was crispy y muy rico, the French fries came with aji sauce, and the salad even had
aguacate palta on it.
At the end of the day, it was good to know that I was not alone in the frustration of trying to navigate the linguistic landscape of a new country.
That’s her story.
P.S. The Spanish language has tied my tongue up a few embarrassing times but those are stories for another day.