I'm from Mexico City and lived in the U.S. for a total of more than 24 years. Now I'm back in Mexico. I realized I was seeing my country through the eyes of a native stranger. This is an attempt to process the differences, to explain Mexico to the U.S. and the U.S. to Mexico. With digressions along the way.

jueves, junio 30, 2005

Another Intra-trans-language-confusion

Another difference between Mexican Spanish and Spanish Spanish that I noticed. In Spain, if you say "voy a dar clase" (literally "I'm going to go give a class") it can mean EITHER take a class or teach a class. In Mexico when we say "dar clase" it means only to teach it. "Tomar clase" is to take a class.

For a while there I thought Madrid must have the highest teacher to student ratio in the world!

martes, junio 28, 2005

Spanish Spanish

I'm always amused by those encounters when someone says "oh, you're from Mexico...do you speak...uh..." and sometimes I finish their sentence with "Spanish" and other times they have time to ask if I speak "Mexican." Well, the truth is I DO speak Mexican. In Spain they call their language "castellano," so I guess I can say I speak "espuhgnowl," but it sure is different from Spanish Spanish. Same as the U.S./England differences.
My grandparents were Spanish, so it's not like I haven't been around the accent. Certain words I use like "gafas" (glasses) seem weird in Mexico. Still, I was newly amazed at all the differences between our languages while I was in Spain. I required almost constant translation. And then there's the slang, maybe I'll get to that in another post. Here are some of the word differences. For most, both could be understood, it's just a matter of what's common:

toilet-escusado-water (though my grandmother used "retrete")
sandwich-sanwich-bocata, Bocadillo (there may be a difference between these, still figuring it out)
room-cuarto-habitación (in Mexico both are common, but you usually say cuarto for your bedroom)
tomato-jitomate-tomate (just about every food item is different)

(That gives you an idea of what I did while I was over there too.)

And then there are other more complex differences. I figured out after a while that my cousin was completely misunderstanding me when I said something like "No me pasarías ese libro?" (Wouldn't you hand me that book?) In Mexico, we have to make everything softer. My cousin would just say "Pass me the book." How rude! Not only do we have to use the conditional (pasarías) to soften the verb, we put it in the negative like we're giving the other person room to say no by assuming the answer is no. Sometimes we don't use the conditional--you know, when we're feeling bold. So every time I said "No me pasas el X" and didn't put enough of an inflection at the end to make it a question my cousin thought I was implying he was rude because he wouldn't give X to me. Even when you know what the other person is saying it's hard not to respond to the attitude you assume them to have because of their words.
I wondered what it was like for them to hear us talk using "ustedes" instead of "vosotros." Usted is the formal version of the plural "you," but for some reason in Mexico they only use the formal in the plural. Vosotros (you-informal, plural) got left out. So we must sound pretty formal and polite to them. I guess it's kind like when we hear other Latin-Americans use the formal singular "you" (usted) in intimate relationships.