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Mike's Take: No hablo espanol

Wednesday - 3/28/2012, 3:34am  ET

Mike Causey, special to wtop.com

WASHINGTON - In prepping for an upcoming trip to Mexico City, it hit me that I don't speak Spanish. Despite an estimated 30 years of downtime in my life, I had -- New Year's resolutions notwithstanding -- not learned that language. Or any other.

I can say "sí" and "no más." But that is pretty limiting. Even the few phrases I have picked up would be pretty much useless because, having asked a question, I probably wouldn't be able to understand the answer.

Years ago in Spain, I went to a travel agent to get tickets for myself and my youngest son. We were going to fly from Malaga to Majorca. I bought the tickets using what Spanish I had. Shortly before flight day, I discovered I had booked us on a flight to the Canary Islands, which was the opposite direction and not where we had friends.

So now I am going to one of the world's most cosmopolitan cities where I'm sure everybody DOESN'T speak English. No reason they should. It is their town, their country. When in Rome (or Mexico City), do as the Romans do. Which I hope to do.

Armed with the powerful knowledge of my appalling ignorance, I went to Barnes & Noble to get a Spanish phrase book. I wanted to learn some basics so that I could eat, learn where the nearest bathroom is, etc.

Most of the books were complex grammar. No thanks. I couldn't find an inexpensive Spanish-English dictionary, or a group of helpful phrases.

There were several kits with CDs. You hear the words, repeat them and then learn which answers you want to select. The problem is that the two I saw cost more than the price of the trip. So I said "no más" to the bookseller who, it turns out, is Iranian. I don't know what "no más" means in Persian, but it was definitely the wrong thing to say. She backed away and disappeared down the aisle.

The smallest one I could find (and pack) -- and the least expensive -- was the one I picked. Got it home and checked it out.

Turns out it is "Spanish For Medical Professionals," or something like that. Not exactly what I wanted or needed. But better than nothing, or so I thought.

After prepping over the weekend, I had mastered such things as:

  • "¿Es el bazo descansando?" ("Is your spleen resting?")

  • "¿Que tan caliente se siente?" ("How hot, as do you have a fever, are you?")

  • "¿Cree que es el colon?" ("Do you think it is your colon?")

But is that enough Spanish for a week in country?

Now, those are fine under certain conditions, but not necessarily for the worried traveler. Most of them were pretty personal (and useless) things to be asking a waiter or policeman. Especially a policeman.

What to do?

I'll think of something. Almost always do. Almost.

For starters, my grandson will be with me. He speaks (or claims to speak) fluent Spanish. I trust him, and yet...

He does have a devilish sense of humor.

What if I ask him to tell me how to ask the bellhop if there is a good restaurant nearby, and instead he has me asking directions to the nearest Turkish bath?

I don't think he'll do that. Still, a bribe may be in order. It would be a lot cheaper in the long run than having a rap sheet in Mexico.


Mike has spent the majority of his life inside the Beltway and has an interesting and humorous perspective that he will share every Wednesday. Mike has spent his career covering the federal government for the Washington Post and now for Federal News Radio.

Mike also writes a daily column for Federal News Radio
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(Copyright 2012 by WTOP. All Rights Reserved.)