It’s easy to overlook life’s everyday conveniences, isn’t it? We can illuminate a room with the flip of a switch, take a shower with the turn of a knob, and have face-to-face conversations with people around the world. We can also break-and-bake our way to cookies that taste just like homemade—11 to 13 minutes in a preheated oven—and no one needs to be the wiser. No doubt we’re living in the lap of luxury. [Read more…]
This past weekend, my Aunt Mary was having some issues with technology, namely her digital personal assistant, Alexa. No matter what my aunt commanded, Alexa was unresponsive. Needless to say, Aunt Mary was none too happy. In an age where we’ve become more and more reliant on smart technology, such dilemmas are frustrating at best, especially when a solution isn’t readily at hand.
For any of you who may not be familiar with Alexa, she is the virtual voice inside Amazon speakers such as Echo. Alexa is quite talented for a virtual voice. She can recite the weather forecast, recommend a dinner recipe, or help you create a shopping list. She can also play the song, “Life is a Highway,” over and over and over. Just ask my 4-year-old nephew. This day, though, Alexa was doing none of that. [Read more…]
It was about 6:30 p.m. on Sunday night when the tree specialist arrived at our house to diagnose the Christmas tree. Yes, you read that correctly. Our Christmas tree received a housecall.
The fate of our fir had been teetering on the brink for almost 24 hours at that point, and now, our moment of reckoning was at hand.
Looking back, something seemed a bit off as soon as we brought it into the house Saturday afternoon, but I couldn’t quite put my finger on it. Sensing that maybe I just needed to dig in and decorate, I did just that, adorning it with 1,000 twinkling lights before enlisting Colton’s help with the ornaments. And when I finally stepped back, the tree looked stunning if i do say so myself.
Although it seemed to be leaning ever so slightly. Or maybe it was just me. [Read more…]
If you’ve ever experienced a breakdown in communication, you know the cause can often be traced to a number of factors, from distraction and inattention to emotions and misunderstandings.
But what about the times when someone just isn’t speaking your language? As in they don’t speak English?
Such was the case a while back when I had the interior of our house painted. Julian, my contractor, is our family’s go-to guy, and one of the nicest people out there. Spanish happens to be his native language. Although he does speak English, his accent is heavy, even after living in the U.S. for several decades. I, on the other hand, speak a very broken Spanglish at best.
I’m sure you can see where this is going.
Phone calls were the worst. I’d often hang up the phone, cross my fingers and hope for the best: Had he said work would begin the following day at 9:30 a.m. or 5:30 a.m?
Apparently, he said neither. It was about 11 a.m. when he arrived the next day. I learned quickly that time was relative for his crew. He whizzed through the house, barking orders in his native language to three of his workers, and headed for the front door.
“OK, Mees Bet. I will see ya laaater.”
With that, he was gone, leaving me to figure out how on earth I was going to communicate with my new guests. Because not one of them spoke a lick of English. Not. One.
In full disclosure, it took me a while to realize just how wide the language barrier was. I’d ask things like, “Would you like coffee?’ and they’d say, “Okay.”
I’d say, “How are you, today?” and they’d say, “Okay.”
I’d say, “What time are you going to lunch?” and they’d say, “Okay.” That’s when I realized something was askew.
And so it continued daily for the next six weeks (yes, six, count them, six weeks). I’m not sure anyone but Julian ever knew my name. They referred to people and places by their street address. My brother was Lincoln Avenue. Their favorite restaurant was Alexandria (Al-a-zan-DRIA) Road. Every now and then, a new worker would join them. They’d introduce me with smiles and, “Si,” and explain that I was the seester of Lincoln Avenue.
In an effort to better communicate, I found my own English becoming more primitive (and a little louder than normal): “Coffee good?” “You paint tomorrow?” Probably not my proudest moments.
Even words I assumed would translate—words like guacamole and jalapeno—weren’t as universal as I suspected. My gwack-a-mo-lee was their whaaac-a-molaaay.
One day, though, as if a gift from the language gods, I stumbled upon the bridge to our gap by uttering a single word: Tequila.
That’s right, we had a bingo. Common ground at 80 proof.
Tequila was our answer to everything, and our running joke of sorts. Now mind you, the joke could’ve been on me—I’d never have known, I can promise you that—but every time one of us became frustrated when conveying a thought, someone would invariably break the tension:
“Ah! Tah-KEE-la!!” we’d respond, and we’d all laugh and laugh and laugh. It never got old.
In the weeks that followed, we taught each other a few words here and there. They liked leche and azucar in their coffee, for example. Their genuine smiles and positive attitudes made them a joy to be around, and I looked forward to our time together.
While I’d learned just enough Spanish to be dangerous, I felt pretty confident about my command of the English language, and a brief moment of weakness, I thought about offering to teach them English. Whether for good or ill, the though dissipated without further action on my part.
A week or so before they finished, one of them came into my office with his cell phone in hand to show me an app he’d downloaded: a Spanish/English translator. Part of me wondered why we hadn’t thought of that weeks ago.
Deep down, I knew no electronic translator could bridge language and relational barriers the way human interaction can.
All this is to say that the next time you experience a failure in communication, remember this: If you’re patient enough, creative enough and determined enough, you’ll find a way through. And if you don’t, there’s always tequila.
Until next time,