I thought my Spanish was pretty good. I made no claim of fluency but believed I could get by should the need arise. I did OK years ago in Bolivia and Guatemala, after all.
I was disabused of that notion this morning when trying to communicate with my house cleaner. Betty took the day off and was still sacked out so I asked if the bedroom could be cleaned last. I remembered the Spanish word for “last” is último and assumed the rest would be easy. It wasn’t. I wanted to tell her that Betty was almost finished sleeping. For “almost,” I used the word bijna, which is correct if you happen to be speaking Dutch (another language I suck at).
It wasn’t long before I resorted to monkey-boy pantomime while she nodded politely and then continued doing what she had planned on from the get go.
If I were of a nativist bent, I suppose I could get all huffy that she hasn’t leaned English. She probably should learn English, but more for her sake than mine. Then again, if she did, she would be able to tell me exactly what she thinks of cleaning my pigsty of an apartment.
I therefore support a multilingual America, especially when it means I don’t have to hear about how my bathroom is as filthy as a Tijuana bus station’s, how half-eaten Chinese food should go in the fridge or the trash, and how the boxer shorts strewn across my bedroom floor crackle like bubble wrap when you give them a twist.