Wednesday, October 17, 2012

“DESK DRAWERS!” I shouted at the top of my voice.

Learning a new language is not easy if you are older than two, learning it well is damn hard. I have yet to manage it in any language.

My English is still pretty Brooklyn and not just the accent.

I learned Greek as a kid, I even had a Greek teacher, Kyria Vangeli…I still spoke like an American that came from Asia Minor- a very weird Greek. Now after years in Greece my Greek is still the Greek of an American. I am called “to Americanaki.” The burden of the Brooklyn accent in all languages, you never lose it.

Five years in Spain and ten years in Mexico and my Spanish is passable, Mexicans are impressed with my Madrilenio accent and Spaniards are knocked out by my Mexican accent.

My Italian is basically Spanish with lots of Italian gestures and an exaggerated Italian accent. I could have starred in spaghetti westerns.

When I was transferred to the Madrid office in 1970, from London, I was Spanishless. I took an intensive
Month long Spanish course from Berlitz, two instructors, 10 hours a day.

Spanish was essential in the Madrid office; very little English was spoken, at least not in front of me.
I spoke or tried to speak only Spanish and naturally made some mistakes.

My greatest mistake was circulated around the office, even made it to the Barcelona office via my secretary, Mari Carmen. I was not corrected for months to the pleasure of everybody around the office, even the clients knew about it.

A lesson in Spanish; the word for balls or testicals is cojones, the word for desk drawers is cajones. You can guess what happened, whenever I was pissed off, I would yell out “CAJONES”. That’s right, desk drawers. The staff thought that if you were angry you yelled out “DESK DRAWERS” in English as well.

Occasionally I would hear “DESK DRAWERS, DAMN IT” yelled out in English to support me.

You make mistakes when you learn a foreign language, usually to the pleasure of the locals.

Read a Greek or Spanish menu translated to English for a great time; there is pleasure in revenge.


  1. This story sounds so familiar....because similarly, but also on the contrary, when I first came to Spain, I would offer things to my assistant and say "Would you please put these in the cojones" instead of 'cajones'. You can imagine her amusement and my embarassment when I realised what I was telling her!

    1. Your version is better than mine Jenny

  2. Mine's Egyptian. Basboussa is the name of little triangular almond, coconut, honey drenched cakes - delicious. Miky surprised me with a tray of them and, delighted, I sang: Barboussa; Barboussa; Ya habibi Barboussa!
    So as not to embarrass me, Miky suggested carefully pronouncing the name of the cakes because Barboussa meant something different. Prompted he explained it meant 'giving the finger'! When I crumpled into fits, he joined in then called his daughter in Cairo, who's never forgotten!

    1. it happens every hundreds of languages, good one Val