But What I Really Meant Was…
By Kathy Koches
Several years ago, before moving to Mexico, my husband and I took a vacation in the Yucatan. We thought we spoke a little Spanish, because I had taken several years of it in school and my husband worked in a Mexican restaurant for many years. Now the only Spanish he learned there was about food, and, of course, how to swear!
We had rented a Volkswagen bug and while driving across the Yucatan peninsula we decided to stop for a few nights. We found a charming little Mexican hotel in Valladolid and checked in, parking our car in the secure parking lot. We took our luggage, consisting of several suitcases, into the room and enjoyed a good night’s sleep. The next morning we decided to go for a swim in a nearby cenote we had read about, so packed a small tote bag and went out to our car. As we were backing out of the driveway, the manager of the hotel came running out, waving his arms and yelling loudly in totally incomprehensible (at least to us) Spanish.
We saw that he was waving a paper in his hands as he came closer. When he got about 10 feet from the car he stopped for breath, and I asked him, in Spanish, to please repeat what he had said more slowly. I was able to figure out that he thought we were leaving without paying our hotel bill. When I explained all this to my husband, he leaned out the window of the car and said, in his very best Spanish, “Dos mas nachos!”
The hotel manager just stood there, eyes wide, with his head cocked to one side, saying “Que?” I was laughing so hard that I could not correct his mistake. Finally I gasped out, “No, honey, it’s “noches” not “nachos!” (noches means nights, nachos are a tortilla type snack!) We decided that from that point on I would do the talking.
I told that story to a friend of mine, mentioning that I had also made another huge mistake in Spanish. I told someone that I was “embarazada.” I thought I was saying I was embarrassed – and boy was I ever embarrassed when I found out that it means “pregnant!”
My friend told me that she had gone into a restaurant to order a drink (bebida) and instead had told the waiter she wanted a “bebé” (baby!) Not sure what he thought about that!! That same friend had also tried to order a diet coke (Coca lite) and instead had asked for a cola lite (a tail light). I wonder what he brought her! She also ordered “bistec con camionetas” (beef steak with pickup trucks) instead of “champiñones” (mushrooms) for dinner one night.
This same friend, when trying to buy a new mattress, asked for “un matriz” (which means womb.) I can only imagine the look on that salesman’s face! I have suggested to my friend that perhaps she might want to take a few classes in Spanish in the near future.
Some other friends have related a few of their mistakes to me. One man was trying to compliment a Mexican woman on her cute little girls, and told her “Sus chicas son muy limpias” (Your girls are very clean!) instead of “muy linda” (very pretty!)
Another friend of mine told her Mexican hostess that she was a “buena cochina” (a good pigpen) instead of cocinara buena (good cook). I’m not sure if she was ever invited back!