Tuesday, April 15, 2008

“Can You Clean?”

Everyone told us that the “language barrier” would be difficult in Miami. Brooke and I, always the clueless optimists, were positive that our high school Spanish would suffice. And it did for the most part [because we never had to use it], right up until Brooke had to call a housekeeper that some friends recommended to us. She sounded fantastic (when I heard that she changed the sheets and did laundry, I got horny), but she also came with a warning: No habla ingles.

No problem! How hard could it be, right? Right?

Scene: Sitting in a Cuban restaurant finishing lunch. I am full of pork and ham. That sounds like a flowery metaphor, but alas it is literal.

Aaaaand action!

Brooke: “I want to make an appointment with that maid.”
Me: “The one that doesn’t speak English?”
Brooke: “Who do we know that speaks Spanish that can help us?”

[We contemplate our homogeneous whiteness.]

Brooke: “I’ll just call. It’ll be fine.”
Me: (laughing on the inside) “OK, that sounds good.”

[ring, ring]

Maid: “Hola.”
Brooke: (drawing an immediate blank on all Spanish words) “Um, hola.”

[awkward pause]

Brooke: “Me llamo Brooke. Yo tengo numero from Neila. Yo quiero una housekeeper.”

[awkward pause]

Brooke: “Puedas limpiar?”

The conversation proceeds like this for some time, with Brooke creating new, not-Spanish words. The basic message of cleaning is conveyed, and Brooke now needs to set up an appointment. Forgetting the word for “month,” she uses the word “mas.” I don’t know why.

Brooke: “Once a month? Um, unce de mas?” [Ed. Note: This is not a sentence – in any language.] “May. May 12th. Uh, Mayo de . . . un momento” (under her breath) “. . . uno, dos, tres, quatro, cinco, seis, siete, ocho, nueve, diez, once, DOCE. DOCE.”
Maid: (in Spanish) “What are you saying?”
Brooke: “Si, dos p.m.”

Finally, our waitress comes over and offers to help us translate. We hand her the phone, and I assume she proceeds to make fun of us to the maid, though I still left her a 40% tip. She confirms our appointment, hangs up, and hands us back the phone.

Me: “How did that go?”
Brooke: “She laughed a lot.”

Aaaaand scene!

And now, just for fun, here is what the housekeeper heard on her end:

Brooke: “Um, hello. My name is Brooke, I have number from Neila. I want a housekeeper. Can you clean? Unce of more! Um, May. May of . . . one moment . . . one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten, eleven, TWELVE. TWELVE."
Maid: “What are you saying?"
Brooke: “Yes, 2 pm’s."


Blogger Arielle said...


April 15, 2008 at 5:19:00 PM EDT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Love you site! We live in San Francisco and our housekeeper speaks no english. We haven't had her come for several months - and we want to call her and have her come back again but neither of us speaks spanish so we've been cleaning ourselves! HA!!

April 15, 2008 at 5:29:00 PM EDT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is the fucking funniest thing you've ever posted.

April 15, 2008 at 6:47:00 PM EDT  
Blogger tammy said...

I give Brooke some major props for using the subjunctive of poder properly.

April 15, 2008 at 7:29:00 PM EDT  
Blogger nycaboo said...

that would seriously be me...but I would probably resort to calling my mother (fluent in spanish) and having her call the woman, and then when she came over I would probably [again] call my mother to speak with her. why? because I am not ashamed to abuse my mother. In fact, my father does something like this on a weekly basis...hes a contractor so he goes down to the appropriate corner to find some help and then calls my mother and tells her what to say.

we're shameless

April 15, 2008 at 7:38:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Christina said...

Our cleaning lady speaks Portuguese and not a lick of English, so I end of following her around our house with my laptop, typing things into Babelfish and pointing furtively. I think she might hate me.

April 15, 2008 at 8:36:00 PM EDT  
Blogger twoleftfeet said...

For having a very limited knowledge of Spanish, I am very impressed that you even tried. :) I know plenty of people that wouldn't have. I would offer my translation services if we knew each other at all, but seeing how we don't, I digress. Good luck! (And I'm pretty positive you'll pick up more Spanish than you realize if you keep interacting with that community while you live down there.)

April 16, 2008 at 12:08:00 AM EDT  
Blogger Amanda said...

That was hilarious! Kudos to Brooke for trying!

April 16, 2008 at 9:15:00 AM EDT  
Blogger Peter said...

Sadly there is a better chance of me learning Spanish than learning to clean properly.

April 16, 2008 at 9:35:00 AM EDT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I wonder if people appreciate the effort or if they just laugh at our incompetence with their languages.

My stupid ass took French in high school. Ooh la la, wasn't that useless! :)

April 16, 2008 at 9:56:00 AM EDT  
Blogger Christina said...

juan es muy guapo!

April 16, 2008 at 10:10:00 AM EDT  
Blogger fort knocks said...

"Can you clean? Unce of more. 2pm's." Sounds clear enough to me.

April 16, 2008 at 11:18:00 AM EDT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You are fucking hilarious. Miami style.

April 16, 2008 at 12:26:00 PM EDT  
Anonymous mindy said...

Unce of more! - That was my favorite.

Also, Christina--your comment is hilarious. I am picturing you running around with a laptop showing your maid random Portuguese sentences. Awesome.

April 16, 2008 at 4:14:00 PM EDT  
Blogger sid said...

Gosh that was frigging brilliant. I love Brooke.

April 17, 2008 at 1:08:00 AM EDT  
Blogger James said...

I haven't laughed that hard sine my landlord in italy left me a two page letter with hand drawn diagrams on how to leave my key in a draw before i left. Something about bad translations are just too funny.

April 18, 2008 at 11:12:00 AM EDT  
Blogger Bex said...

Dan, Thanks, I needed that. "That" being a hearty laugh with my head thrown back. I can go back to ignoring my laundry now. Gracias!

April 24, 2008 at 2:36:00 PM EDT  
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