Friday, March 21, 2008

That Magic Word

There is a magic word in every language that gets you what you want.

I did a stint at a university in Spain during the summer of 1993. (How's that for dating me?) Nothing tests language skills like living with a non-English speaking family.

As we students met in the piso every morning for class, swapping stories about our host families, there seemed to be a red thread in our experiences.

We couldn't find a trash can.

As we quizzed each other, we realized that none of us had been able to locate a trash can in our respective host family's houses. We had all looked in the usual places. Nada.

The guys did not seem to have a problem with it. We girls, on the other hand, did. You cannot be a female and not have a trash can in the bathroom. ¿Comprende?

We took it upon ourselves to talk with our host families that night. Everyone has a trash can, don't they?

SideNote: I lived in a particularly strange household. Culture had nothing to do with it. My classmates referred to my host mother as The DragonLady because of the red embroidered silk robe she would wear. She was in her early 30's, ugly as a fence post and continuously hit on my male American classmates. We would joke that she would deliberately put it on if she knew the boys were coming as some kind of bizarre seduction ritual. Ah. The memories.

My roommate and I engaged our host parents in a bizarre linguistic exchange, trying to find out where in the world the trash was. All the vocabulary we knew did us absolutely no good. They were thick, those host parents of ours. Between the two of us, our Spanish was quite good. Still, they did not seem to know what in Hades we were talking about.

Until. The magic word.


We threw it out there in some kind of desperate Whaddya call it? Whaddya call it? fashion.

A trash can was produced.

It was miracle.

As a group, we came to realize the Power of the Caja.

Need something behind the counter in a store? ¿Aquí? No. ¿Allí? No. ¿Allá? No! La caja. Ahhhhhh!

Light bulbs of understanding would flash. Angels would sing. The item was immediately procured.

This may have been a one-shot deal that summer. Usually, such events of cosmic wonder are not repeated. All I know is that it worked. Every time. The language barrier was transcended. Connections were made. We got what we needed, and it was wonderful.

Now to find this word in English. The word that gets my laundry folded, the bills paid, and the kids to stop fighting. You may suggest Valium. Or Coffee. Or Nanny.

I suspect this only works abroad. When one is away from home. I'm still looking. Let me know if you find it.


Baroness von Bloggenschtern said...

"Perimenopausal!" in a loud, threatening voice usually works around here - bunnies scatter hither and thither trying to please the beastmaster. People will readily admit to things they didn't do, and dogs will roll over onto their backs, submitting and peeing themselves.

Coal Miner's Granddaughter said...

I've got the word... well, two words actually. But, said together makes one word.


Yeah, that's the one!

Gypsy said...

In Italy, when there's nothing to say, you just say, "boh." It's a verbal shrug. I love it.