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.

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:

US-MEXICO-SPAIN
toilet-escusado-water (though my grandmother used "retrete")
computer-computadora-ordenador
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)
laziness-flojera-pereza
shower-regadera-ducha
peach-durazno-melocotón
potato-papa-patata
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.

5 Comments:

Blogger Oliver said...

See, this is one of the things I love about your journal: I always feel like I'm experiencing the world through someone else's eyes. I mean, that's the point of most blogs, but you pull it off exceptionally well.

I also seem to be very language-oriented lately...

2:41 p. m.

 
Blogger Nayeli said...

Thanks Oliver!

2:47 p. m.

 
Anonymous Ruth said...

LOVED this post, Nayeli! And I love these regional differences. Not that the Spanish consider them regional differences. They tend to consider them "incorrect Spanish".... And it's funny, I was just preparing a post over on La Tertulia about "usted, tú y vos." As for "vosotros", I always try to switch back to using that when I go to Spain, because I know it sounds so weird to my friends to call them "ustedes", and having learned my Spanish first in Spain, I did used to use that form quite naturally -- but after years now of speaking Latin American Spanish I end up completely tongue-tied in the process of trying to switch back, and finally give up and go back to my simple "ustedes" ways. In fact, it's made me realize how much I love Latin American Spanish.

6:52 a. m.

 
Anonymous Anónimo said...

In northern Mexico, Baja etc. We say, pasame el libro...we don't do the whole..."would you" I guess there are differences in countries too

5:17 p. m.

 
Anonymous Anónimo said...

fyi "jitomate" is mostly DF Mexico - rest o' the country just says "tomate". Your observations are very good though a little DF-centric! No? Fun reading!

11:27 p. m.

 

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