Buying Matches in Alpine

Day Two: January 21, 2014, Alpine CA

Seeing the packet of matches on the conveyor belt, the Mexican woman behind me says, “Where you find dose? I want dose, too, but I wan dose long ones,” she puts her hands apart about 9 inches, the length of a fireplace starter match. “Do dey have dose long ones? You know, dose long ones?” Most people out where I live heat their houses with wood stoves.

I struggle to respond without interrupting. “They’re on aisle ten,” I squeeze the words in between her question and her gesture, “Down there with school supplies. All the fire starters are with the school supplies.” I think that’s funny.

“But I wan dose long ones. Do dey have them?”

“Yeah, they’re down there.”

“Das good. Tank you. I get them next time.”

I think to myself, “This woman is more used to being NOT understood by the people to whom she speaks than she is to being understood. It also has not occurred to her that I, White Woman, might speak Spanish and it doesn’t occur to her that her English makes sense.” I know what that’s like. That happened to me all the time when I lived in China. I would respond to a question asked in Chinese by answering in Chinese and sometimes people didn’t realize WHY they understood me. There’s much more to language than we know.

 

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