Muhammad (if I remember his name right) and a man we called Jose, would come in together. The former drank diet sodas. We nicknamed the other Jose, because of the many shots of Jose Cuervo he would drink on any given night. They would order dinners. Jose would wander. Muhammed and I would talk. He could speak six languages. So, he would teach me bits and pieces of some. I wish I could still remember the words, though I don’t think I ever had any idea about how to go about writing any of them.
Back then, whenever I listened to the song Muhammad My Friend by Tori Amos, I’d think of Muhammad.
First came French
I fell in love with learning new languages in my 7th grade French class taught by Madame Pence. If school could have consisted of language, choir, and theater, I would be writing day and night for years about how much I loved junior high. There were other classes and I was an awkward girl, so I have not and will not.
In high school, I took Latin and French. They were super practical classes for me to take. After all, I planned to be a famous actress who would have to travel to Paris for the big fashion shows, because that’s what famous actresses do. Since Latin is the root of the romance languages and I also planned to write a few romance novels (after becoming super famous), it made sense. Okay, so I’m kidding about my reason for studying Latin. Regardless of reason, I love learning languages. Getting to revisit my curiosity about languages with Muhammad was one of my favorite things about working at Shenanigan’s.
In my early twenties, I bartended at Las Margaritas. On my first night, I was told that when someone asks me, como estas?, I should say, bien buenota. This happened a few times:
Guy: Como Estas?
Me: Bien Buenota.
Guy: Turn around.
Then, I caught on that something was up and just said, bien. At the end of the night, when it was explained to me that bien buenota means something like I am feeling really fine (as in hot). There was no Google then.
It took time, but I learned to speak the Spanish pretty well (dos que tres). I still practice speaking Spanish now and then.
About a year later, I ran into an old friend from Elementary School, Jennifer. She had gone to school in Paris and Barcelona and had returned to Rochester, Minnesota. The parties she hosted and invited me to join her at had fantastic international flair. At some, a map of the world or a globe would be put out, so that everyone could put a pin in the place they were from. I remember there being people from Argentina, Iran, Germany, Portugal, and many Italians. At the parties, I learned the proper way to eat pasta and the delicious treat it is to have a strawberry in your mouth while drinking champagne. I was also introduced to Andrea Bocelli’s gorgeous voice.
The Italians would often chide, “You, you Americans live to work. We work to live.”
Beyond the languages and the beautiful words they consist of, there is the loveliness of considering life from another perspective, isn’t there?
Is there a language you love learning and/or speaking? I’d love to know! You can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This post is part of a series inspired by Eat Pray Love.