Laughing it off

| 28 Sep 2011 | 02:56

    Clare had a need. It was immediate, and intense. The problem was, she was traveling in Spain, and she was relatively unfamiliar with the Spanish language. Okay, that's not quite right. She was almost completely unfamiliar with the language. She knew a few words and phrases, but for the most part she was completely reliant upon her fellow travelers for communication with local shopkeepers and servers. And to this point that had been enough. But now Clare had a need, immediate and intense, and her usual interpreters were still making their way to the fast food restaurant. She didn't have time to wait for them. So, exercising every bit of courage and self-sufficiency that she could muster, she stepped to the counter and took her need into her own hands. "Por favor," Clare said, as clearly as she could. "Cerveza." The young woman at the counter didn't bat an eye. She turned, grabbed a cup and began to pour Clare a beer. Clare was puzzled. Then troubled. Then concerned. She didn't need a beer, nor had she intended to order beer. In fact, she isn't even a beer-drinker. She had intended to ask for… well, a rest room. She turned to her companion, who knew a little more Spanish than she did and suggested that perhaps the word she was looking for was "servicio." "Excuse me!" Clare exclaimed, waving her hand to get the server's attention. "No cerveza! No cerveza! I need servicio!" The young server looked at her anxious guest, then at the beer. Then a broad smile broke out on her face and she laughed. "Ah, servicio!" she said, laughing. She pointed to the end of the restaurant where the "servicio" was located, and then turned quickly to tell her colleagues about the blonde American woman who had ordered a beer when a restroom was what she wanted. She was still chuckling when Clare and her party left nearly a half-hour later. Clare was mortified. But everyone else seemed to think it was pretty funny, especially the young Spaniards at the restaurant. My Spanish friend, Sergio, also thought Clare's story was funny when I told him about it. He was immediately reminded of a similar incident that happened to him when he came to America for the first time, something about a tight spot he got into with his American girlfriend when he confused the English words "pray" and "play." I'd go into detail but this is a family column. This kind of stuff happens all the time, doesn't it? At a time when international communication is just a few clicks away, the wonder is that it doesn't happen more often. Of course, we understand someone using one word when another word is intended, and we simply laugh it off. But wouldn't it be great if we could be so naturally forgiving of other hurts and misunderstandings between people? How often do we bristle at a misguided, emotional "cerveza" when "servicio" was really what was intended? Such compassionate understanding, freely and completely given, might easily be considered one of the world's greatest needs. Immediately and intensely.