How Not to Speak to Spanish Sailors


I love Graham Norton. He makes me laugh. The other night he announced that his show was on in Norway and then said “Please excuse me a moment while I just say hello to my Norwegian audience”. Then he leaned in towards the camera and yelled “HELLO” really slowly.

That extremely loud, very slow “hello”, brought back a particular memory to me. I grew up in a fishing port, and my father used to act as an interpreter for Spanish seamen who came ashore. If seamen were taken ill on board fishing vessels, they were often airlifted to our local hospital for treatment, and my father would be asked to translate for the patient and the doctors.

On one such occasion my mother, who could not bear to think of anyone alone in hospital in a foreign country, decided that she and I should go to visit the unfortunate seaman. Off to the hospital we had to go. Looking back on it now, I have no idea why she didn’t wait until my father came home from work and could go with her. It would have been handy to have been introduced. Instead she took me. Neither of us spoke any Spanish.

Once we arrived at the hospital and located the victim, she walked up to his bed and greeted him. “HELLO”, she yelled. “HOW ARE YOU TODAY?” We watched the look of confusion cross his face as he wondered who we were, and whether there was a fire emergency. “No English”, he tried to say. “YES” she answered, smiling at him and sitting down by the bed. “DO YOU STIll HAVE PAIN?”, she ploughed on. “I’M SURE YOU’LL BE SENT HOME SOON”. “Sorry. No English” he tried again. Then she sat down and smiled at him. Time goes extremely slowly in situations like these. After what seemed like forever, she got up “WELL. WE HAVE TO GO NOW” “DON’T WORRY, YOU’LL SOON BE HOME TOO”.

Mercifully, she made for the door.

It’s a funny memory to me now, even though it was kind of embarassing at the time. Looking back, I am glad that my mother visited that sailor. Even though there was no successful communication with words, that guy could not help but notice that somebody cared enough to visit him. The words didn’t really matter. Just by showing up she let him know he wasn’t quite alone. She was probably as embarrassed as I was about the language problem, but she didn’t let it stop her from going and sitting by his bed for a while anyway. There is an element of class in not caring how silly you end up looking if it makes someone else feel better.

7 thoughts on “How Not to Speak to Spanish Sailors

  1. The words may not be universal, but the smile is. My husband tells of one time he was working in Germany and struck up a “conversation” with folks in a bar, not because they spoke English or he spoke German, but because they all spoke Monty Python!

    Michele

      1. Or maybe not…if the only words he understood were “dead parrot” it might not have been so good.

  2. Your Mom sounds like a wonderful lady. I know if anyone I loved were to take sick in a foreign city, I would hope someone would show them the same thoughtfulness and caring. I am sure the poor man was confused, but somewhere one of his children might be sharing the same story told from his point of view.

  3. What a sweet gesture your mom made!

    The language problem reminds me of the time my mother tried to buy wonton wrappers in a Chinese restaurant or maybe she asked where she could buy them. Oriental cuisine had just appeared in Tallahassee; there were no ingredients in the grocery stores yet, only a restaurant. Mama and a friend wanted to try their hand at cooking. Anyway, the cooks didn’t speak English well, and the exchange was hilarious.

    1. Hello Terri,
      Thats a great story about your mum. At the time I was really embarrassed when my mum and I visited the Spanish man. However it has become a very funny memory to me now too.

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