Speaking In Tongues


I talk English pretty good and am fluent in ig-Latin Pay. Vis-à-vis the French classes I passed in college - some of that merde (French for “ka-ka”) soaked in, but half-studying Spanish would have been the wiser choice for life in el Finest City de los Estados Unidos.

With the exception of the mierda I spewed in Spanish while ordering rolled tacos con extra queso after too many two-dollar drinks in PB (it was the mid-'90s), I couldn’t say nada en Español when I first moved to San Diego. And my Français was three years old and fading fast.

When I met my wife at Rich’s nightclub in Hillcrest seven years later, I thought she was Italian (she thought I was gay, sometimes still does), but she was actually from Brazil. Simone had recently moved to the U.S. and knew maybe 50 English words at the time. She’s way over a hundred by now. (Só brincando, meu amor.)

It took me months of listening to Simone gossip with her girlfriends at lightning speed to grasp where one Portuguese word ended and the next began. But within a year of living with her, I could at least tell when they were talking about me - when they wanted me to, anyway.

Today, I speak Portuguese like a sarcastic six-year-old, and Simone speaks English with only a slight accent. And now we have Lex, a binational, two-passport-holding baby gringo of our own.

Lex says agua for water, mãe for “Mom” and “quack-quack” for “duck.” He calls anyone with grey hair vô-vô, which means “grandfather” in Portuguese, and screams “Way-oh! Way-oh! Way-oh!” when he sees Shamu. When he slams his finger in the screen door (daily), he yells mão, the Portuguese word for “hand,” and says beijo when he wants us to kiss it and make it feel better. He calls his nanny Tía, the Spanish word for “aunt” (even I know that one), and can count to five in French, that gem courtesy of my college years.

As Lex grows, his language will surely be a combination of Simone’s and mine, the Spanish he learns from our friends and his nanny, the French he hears from our Parisian amigo David (Lex calls him “Da-vee”), the Serbo-Croation Uncle Sanel shrieks with sizzle and style, the Cambodian he hears when Rina cuts my hair, the Chinese he hears from the manicurists at Rina’s salon, the Italian he hears from Joe across the street and the countless other voices he’ll encounter in this most worldly of cities.

This International Issue of PacificSD spans the globe without leaving town. Flip through to meet a Slovakian tennis champ who’s looking for a house in Rancho Santa Fe (see Service with a Smile), a Namibian princess who spent a day at SeaWorld (see Life and Limb) and the Eritrean-American Boston Marathon winner from San Diego High School (see It’s About Time).

For a global gastronomic adventure that touches down in Bolivia, Brazil, the Caribbean, Ethiopia, Finland, France, Lebanon, the Mediterranean, Mozambique, Nepal, Peru, Poland, Puerto Rico, Russia, South Africa, Spain, Thailand, Turkey, Vietnam and Zimbabwe, see Abound the World.

I moved to San Diego for the sun, not for its diverse international cultures and languages. Getting the best of both worlds has turned out to be muy bueno.

Please turn the page, et bon voyage!

Foreign-language jokes for any Gump

To impress/entertain Spanish speakers:
¿Cómo está frijole?
How have you bean?

To impress/entertain French speakers:
What happened to the three cats in Paris?
Un, deux, trois cats sank.