The other day I saw you at your new cashier job in Kroger – congratulations! The two women in front of me- wow, that was a situation, wasn’t it? Buying all those chips and Diet Coke with their food stamp card. Except their card only had $1.28 left on it. And their English was just about nonexistent. “Yes, please” doesn’t get one very far in understanding that you have to pay cash or give back almost everything you’ve just tried to buy.
And you, almost finished with Spanish 3 at the Catholic high school. You were trying! A word here and there but really, your Spanish 1 and 2 classes were a mess and you’re pretty sure the teacher was fired; it wasn’t that she “needed a change” like she said.
So there everyone was and you know what I found odd? No one pulled out a cell phone. There was no Google Translate to be found. I’m not sure if it didn’t occur to anyone or they’d never tried it before but no communication was happening and there wasn’t a solution in sight.
And there I was. I must confess to you, young Everyboy, that I was still reeling from finding out what self-employment does to your taxes. I had started a chat with myself there in my head, about how much I was paying in taxes so these women who couldn’t communicate with the cashier could buy a dozen bags of chips and 72 cans of Diet Coke.
Stop it, I told myself. You know there’s always more to this story than meets the eye. Listen to what they’re saying and be the solution. And I realized what was happening. They don’t understand they still owe $38. They think you just need a couple of dollars from them. I’m sometimes reluctant to jump in like that because I’m not sure if it’s going to be welcome; I know some people are very proud of the English they’ve worked for and want to figure it out themselves. But someone needed to start communicating and the people behind me were getting antsy. So I stepped in.
Puedo ayudar si necesitan ayuda.
Do you remember how quiet everything got all of a sudden? It was 5:30 p.m. on a Tuesday and every line was getting longer and we had a dozen pairs of eyes on us from every side. And then, the smiles.
Oh, she speak Spanish! Ay, pues mira, que ella habla español, muy amable, muy amable.
Within a few minutes we had it straightened out. We found out they were refugees from Cuba who had been here for three months, and we both know that’s not long enough to figure out the difference between you only have $1.28 left on the card and you owe another $1.28.
Every experience like that enriches all of us who were involved. Keep learning, okay? You’re well on your way, even if it does take you a minute to remember how to say “bread.” Because regardless of the path you take in life, one day you’ll be Everyman in the grocery checkout line and the women in front of you have only been here three months and will need you because Google Translate can never be muy amable.
I came back to Kroger for eggs today and went through your line, the one right next to Everyboy’s. Interesting story, right, what happened to me and Everyboy the other day? You’ve been in that situation a few times even in the short time you’ve been doing this job, I can tell; you’ve felt lost trying to help someone find their way in a new place and a new language.
In fact, you told us how it happened just the other day. There was a Mexican, you said, who couldn’t find what he needed and didn’t speak a word of English. You heard the call for everyone, anyone, please someone speak Spanish. Send him to me, you said, because I’ve got the magic: Google voice-to-text. But it failed you. You had no idea what it was spinning out but it wasn’t what either of you needed to make communication happen. So he ended up finally finding what he needed by himself.
Next time, Everygirl, ask Everyboy for help, because I think he might be a little more motivated to keep going in Spanish class now. And can I ask you to approach the situation knowing that there’s always more to this story than meets the eye? As I walked out to my car today, can I tell you what thought was running through my mind?
Oh young Everygirl, if you didn’t understand a word he said, how did you know he was Mexican?
Learn a language, Everychild. At least enough to find out if he’s Mexican, enough to find out what she has run from only three months ago, because at worst Google Translate will utterly fail you, but certainly it can never be muy amable.