Friday, November 18, 2005

I've got the face for it

Well I'm now a bona fide media celebrity here.

Earlier this week the public affairs office found themselves stretched too thin and asked for a volunteer to do a radio interview about Thanksgiving, so Guatemalans could get to know a bit more about our traditions. I volunteered, and got a little more than I bargained for. It turned out to be a live, hour-long show that allowed calls or e-mails from the audience. In Spanish. (In case you've missed some of the key background info from previous posts). You could say I was a little nervous.

I spent a good long while last night learning how to say "Pilgrims" (peregrinos), "jellied cranberry sauce" (salsa de arándano en gelatina), and "biggest shopping day of the year" (el dia de compras mas atareado del año!). The interview was at nine, and when I got to work at eight and found an email waiting for me saying that one of the themes of the show would be "Thanksgiving recipes." It turns out it was a show called "Estilo y Hogar" (Style and Home). I scrambled to find a recipe for stuffing on the internet, which I would have no hope of being able to explain in Spanish anyway, before heading off to the glamorous downtown high-rise that houses the studios of Radio Punto FM 90.5 Guatemala.

The host was a very friendly guy, one of the more metrosexual guys I've met in Guatemala, which I guess shouldn't be a surprise for the host of a show called "Style and Home." It turned out that the first twenty minutes of the show were all him, in this case discussing three important topics:

1. The meaning of the names "Miguel" and "Marcel" (Fun fact: Marcel supposedly comes from a combination of the words "sea" (mar) and "sky" (cielo) in Spanish or Latin or something. Or so claimed our host.)

2. Some things you can do around the house to save money, like not leaving the refrigerator door standing open for too long. He also claimed that the fuller your fridge is, the healthier it is. I either missed the reasoning behind this entirely due to language difficulties or because I was mentally practicing translations of "add a tablespoon of thyme and stir" into Spanish.

3. Freckles: what causes them; their relative merits in the attractiveness of a person; creams, salves, and tonics you might use to avoid/cover them up; etc.

After 20 minutes of that, we got to the special guest: me. He kept saying that we were going to talk about the "gastronomia" of the US, but he did manage to ask me a few of the questions I had been expecting, allowing me to let loose soliloquies that would sound like this, if translated directly:

"There was one the first thanksgiving. In the year 1620 one group of these colonies that some call themselves the Pilgrims would to come from England. They had arrived at a month of December and had arrived to Massachusetts, where snow is. The winter there very bad. The Pilgrims are not knowing how they growed the foods, and there are some indians that are nice. The Indians given the Pilgrims a food. Many the pilgrims died, but some did not. The next summer, and autumn, there is a harvest of good harvest, and so the pilgrims would be happy because this would mean that the pilgrims to survive the winter, which is in Massachusetts very bad. So they had a party for three days, and that was the first thanksgiving. And they invited the indians."

The Guatemalans I talked to afterwards, including the host, were very complimentary about my Spanish, possibly out of charity and/or pity.

He asked me for my favorite recipes for Thanksgiving, but not being up to the quick translation of a recipe that I didn't really know anyway, I just said that my Grandma was the master chef of the family, and I just knew that the Turkey went in the oven for something like six hours. I completely forgot that I had prepared ahead of time a clever answer about "Papallo: Un Pollo dentro de un Pato dentro de un Pavo," which was my own translation of "Turducken: A chicken stuffed in a duck stuffed in a turkey." A moment for cultural exchange lost!

The Guatemalans I work with were most amused by my response to the question "What foods have you tried here in Guatemala that you like?" which caught me totally off guard, so I said the steak was really good here, which was not a lie. I just couldn't call up the names of any of the more elaborate/typical dishes I'd tried. So then the host said, "Well what about beans?" I said that of course the beans here are very tasty, but the tortillas are not as big as the ones in the US. He agreed that the tortillas here are too small to wrap anything in. Other questions that kind of took me aback included: What is the traditional food to eat on New Year's Eve? and What is a real American hamburger like?

The call-in portion of the show was the part I was most nervous about, as telephone communication is always more difficult than face-to-face, and who knows what kind of crazy questions callers might ask? It turns out that I was boring enough that the phones were not ringing off the hook. The only question came in via e-mail, and referred back to the important topic of what kind of creams you might use to cover up freckles. The host kindly did not ask for my input.

Anyway, the woman in the public affairs office seemed happy with my performance, said my Spanish was fine and that I came off as having a friendly rapport with the host, which was a good message for Guatemalan-US relations. If only we could spend less time arresting the head of their drug enforcement agency for smuggling drugs into the US, and more time discussing cranberry sauce.


Ma & Pa Stokes said...

Grandma will be really pleased that you think she is the best Thanksgiving cook. But, I really don't think you cook a turkey six hours!

MLE said...

We actually had a similar experience in Xi'an, as a local wanting to practice her English, who taught English to middle schoolers, wanted to learn more about American holidays. We discussed Halloween and Thanksgiving and she was under the distinct impression that Americans eat KFC for every holiday meal, as that's how it's marketed in China.

EEK! said...

We almost ran over two wild (domestic? - they were foraging on the edge of a lawn) turkeys today on the Bohemian Highway.

So we're not sweating it, either.