Now that I am learning a second language, slowly I might add, I have a whole new admiration for all the multi-lingual people I meet. Speaking a second language requires you know the literal translation of words but also how phrases are used beyond that literal translation, which is often. What was a surprise to me though was how often my English, especially my Southernese, when translated literally, makes no sense at all. This is especially true all too often for my waiters, all who speak very good English as a second language, but no Southernese, and therefore frequently come running to me with a puzzled look on their face when the southerners come to town.
It is probably not fair to expect the guys to understand Southerners actually. It would be like a third language for them. One of my waiters came to me a while back when we had a Galveston ship in port, concerned that a guest was mad and leaving because something had broken. I went to see what had happened and the guest was packing up and told me all was fine and that they had a wonderful day. I was confused and told him what the waiter had said and he looked just as confused and said, “all I told him was to bring my check cause I was fixin’ to leave.” We both looked at the waiter and he said, “what needs fixing?” We laughed and the poor waiter was still confused.
Another time I was sitting with a couple as the waiter was clearing the table after their meal. He was wiping the table with a rag when the lady said to him, “I think it’s time to settle up.” The waiter got that far away look in his eye and I could see him trying to figure out what this lady wanted that would go down and then up??? Finally he said, “I don’t know anything that settles up. I thought things always settled down?” I had to explain, sometimes in Southernese, up is down and down is up.
Like when the guest asked one of my guys “where can I take a pee”. This really confused him because in Spanish, you “make” a pee, or “hacer”, you do not “take” it. If you translate take a pee literally, you would say “tomar” which can mean ”to take” or it can also mean “to drink”, which can often sound like you want to know where you can go drink pee. (Why do we say “take” a pee anyway? Where are we going to take it?) The waiter, who was a bit confused, told him to go to the restroom and figured whatever he was going to do with it, the restroom would be the best place for that. The guest just said thanks and skipped away to the bathroom.
Once, I had to actually explain to one of my waiters that “ya’ll” is not someone’s name. It started when he told me the reason a particular group had not left to go snorkeling was that they were waiting on someone named Yall. Something didn’t sound right so I asked him to explain and he said, “The Dad said to hurry because he wasn’t waiting on Yall. I don’t think he likes this Yall guy very much.” When I finally quit laughing, I told him he could go ahead and load the boat. Yall would just have to go next time. He did it, but you could tell, he felt bad for old Yall!
As we get more ships from places like Galveston, New Orleans and Charleston, my guys are learning the nuances of Southernese, which I suppose will make them tri-lingual perhaps?? They now know things like the proper “conjugation” of any word ending with “ow”, like window or pillow, is actually just an “a”, making the words pilla or winda. They are learning to adjust for speed since the southerners speak so slow they often add a syllable to even a single syllable word and abuse the compound word rules with stuff we hear each day like, “Dayam, would’ja look at them teeits.” Now what is a English-second- language speaking Mexican supposed to do with that? That is when they look at me with that “what did he just say” look. They are however learning their Southernese and the people that speak it. Now if I can just figure out how to explain grits and gravy. When I try, they again just get that far away look in their eye, much like when they try to figure out why you might want to drink pee, wondering, why gringo, would you eat that?