Things were very quiet at the store yesterday. We had quite a few homeschool families in, and it was good to have such a quiet day that I could help them thoroughly.

We also had a Spanish-speaking customer. I am usually pretty good with Spanish-speaking customers. I can understand quite a bit of Spanish, and all those years as an ESL teacher have given me a lot of experience with communicating with people who don’t speak English well, but this was not a successful communicative experience.

“Laminas?” she said when she came in.

I imagined that she meant “laminating,” so I agreed with her and indicated the laminating machine. She stared at me for a moment and then said, “Cuantas” or maybe “Quantas” or something like that. I decided that this might mean “How much does it cost?” and told her “Fifty cents a foot” while holding my hands 12″ apart.

For future reference, “laminas” and “quantas” or something like that does not mean “Do you have a laminator and if so what does it cost?” 

The lady looked distressed. After a bit she murmured, “animales” to herself. She was looking down and trying out words, as though hoping to think of the English equivalent. She was not speaking to me at all. I eavesdropped, in hopes of finding some clue to what she needed.

“Do you need pictures of animals?” I asked. “Tarjetas?” I believe that “tarjetas” means “flashcards,” and she looked as though I might be on the right track, so I showed her some animal flashcards. She nodded her head in a dubious manner.

“Mas grandes?” I said, thinking she might want a bulletin board set. She frowned and shook her head. “Vaca,” she said, “I don’t know….”

“Cow,” said I with confidence. She of course had no idea that I had understood “vaca” since she didn’t know what “cow” meant. That is probably not how you spell it anyway.

“Umm… vaca… moo”
“Si, si, cow.”

I felt that we were getting somewhere at last. Resisting the temptation to switch to French, since I have no idea how to say “farm” in Spanish, I took her over to look at farm animal bulletin boards. She continued to look distressed.

“Ummm… mamiferos?” she said, or something that sounded like that.

“Yes, mammals!”

At this point, she added Spanish words that seemed pretty clearly to mean “vertebrates” and “invertebrates.” I, feeling that we were getting somewhere at last, nodded and added, “Insectos? Quadrupedos? Animales de todo … uh… sortas?” This pretty well used up my Spanish vocabulary, except “Yo te amo,” which didn’t seem likely to help.

The lady agreed with me, in a relieved fashion.

I opened the box of animal flashcards to show her that the pictures did indeed include animales of all kinds, and she bought them. I did not, however, feel confident that this was what she wanted. I asked her, “Este es que usted neccessitas?” which I hoped she would understand to mean, “Is this what you wanted?”

She stared at me some more. I brought up Babelfish on the computer and tried to convey, through English, telepathy, and mime, that she should just say something in Spanish for heaven’s sake, and I could type it in and get a translation.

“No hablo espanol,” I said, “pero yo comprendo un poco.” This might well have meant that though I didn’t speak Spanish, I could understand some. But maybe not.

She smiled kindly and left with her flashcards.

I must go to traffic school today. If you always read my blog and have total recall, you will know that I got a ticket in August, and going to traffic school will keep me from having it on my record. Fortunately.

This seems like a waste of good sewing time, and I don’t suppose I can take my knitting. However, I am going to wear my Pampered Chef shirt and see whether I can book a show with a fellow criminal. This will, I think, add a sense of purpose to the undertaking.