Be careful when talking about schools in Spanish! If you’re talking about school in the general sense, use escuela. For grade school, elementary school, and grammar school, use escuela primaria. For high school, use escuela preparatoria, escuala secundaria, colegio, or instituto. Unfortunately, there is no term for junior high school. When you graduate high school, you attend la universidad. Do not use colegio because colegio refers to high school. College and colegio are false cognates. If you attended a junior college or a community college, you must use universidad because junior and community colleges do not exist in the Spanish speaking world.
Students in the general sense are estudiantes. If you are a college or university student, you are either an estudiante,alumno, or alumno subgraduado. Graduate students are alumnos graduados or alumnos de posgrado.
Be careful what you call the teachers! Grade school and high school teachers are maestros or maestras. High school teachers may also be profesor or profesora. College and university professors are either profesor(-a) or doctor(-a).
One of the highlights of my trip to Mexico was going to my cousin Becky’s college graduation party! Becky invited me last summer when I visited with my sons, so I planned to go to México for it. She graduated as an engineer in December and from now on she will be addressed by her official title of ingeniera. As part of her curriculum, she had to learn English because it’s an international business language. So when she couldn’t take courses she needed in Spanish because they were closed, she would take them in English. We went to see The Day the Earth Stood Still, El día que se detuvo la Tierra in Spanish, and Becky insisted that we see it in English with Spanish subtitles. In many Mexican theaters you have the option of watching movies dubbed in Spanish or in the original English language with Spanish subtitles. Unlike when I was boy, the movies come out at the same time in Mexico as in the U.S.
This was such a cool graduation party! We went to the Ex-Convento de San Hipólito near the Zócalo in downtown México City. There is a courtyard in the middle of the building, but they put up a temporary roof in case it rained. We arrived at 9:30 pm, even though the party officially started at 9:00, and many graduates and their guests were still arriving. Becky had a table for ten reserved for her. Her parents, my cousin Mara and her husband Enrique, Becky, six of Becky’s friends, and me sat at that table. There was a DJ playing music until the evening program began. A few students gave speeches and each table cheered on their graduate. Click on the link below to hear Becky’s. And, of course, there were Mariachis. Everyone who wanted to drink brought their own liquor. The waiters for our table would then mix our drinks. We had tequila, so the waiter made me a Paloma, tequila with Squirt (Esquirt in México). This custom was something foreign to me. For some strange reason, one of the waiters kept speaking to me in English. The waiters served us our dinner, but I can’t even remember what we ate! After dinner, there was dancing. Everyone danced except me. That is until Mara asked me to dance. My cousin-in-law Enrique commented that I danced like an American because I didn’t raise my hands above my head.
Each graduate was seated at a table for ten, for family and guests. Throughout the night, tables would cheer on their graduate. They would erupt into cheer unexpectedly. Click the link below to hear our table cheering Rebeca proudly.
The party roared all night long. About 6:30 am, the waiters started asking us if we wanted coffee and chilaquiles, fried tortillas with eggs. That was the one thing I loved about the party. We didn’t have to forage for food after the party as we usually do in Chicago. As the evening progressed, the waiters became friendlier with us and talked with us when they weren’t busy. The one who spoke English to me was especially friendly. I told him I could tell he had lived in the U.S. At first he denied it, but then admitted to living and working in Las Vegas for about eight years. But he came back to Mexico because he missed his family. I asked him why he spoke to me in English. He told me that he thought I was Canadian! Go figure!
Well, the party was a lot of fun! When we got home, we immediately went to bed because when we woke up, we were driving to Ixtapa Zihuatanejo!
I started reading the blog Stuff White People Like about two months after it started up. I think I read about it on the Internet somewhere and I checked it out. I really enjoyed reading it and found myself laughing out loud many times. Then, one day, I thought, “I could write for this blog.” So, I contacted Christian Lander and asked him if he accepted freelance submissions. He said that he would, but that he had just signed a book deal and they didn’t want a lot of other new writers now. I understood perfectly. But for some strange reason, I had really, really wanted to write one post for the Stuff White People Like. I tossed around several ideas in my head during my idle moments–of which I seem to have more and more with each passing day. But I never actually wrote anything down, as I am wont to do.
Soon the blog announced the forthcoming publication of the Stuff White People Like book and there was much excitement in the blog’s comments. I commented that I wouldn’t buy the book since I had already read all the posts and comments on the Internet for free. As it turned out, the book version had several new never-before-read entries. However, I still refused to buy the book and ended up reading it for free at Borders in two visits!
Before the book’s release, Lander announced that there would be a contest for the best post written for Stuff White People Like. The prize? A free copy of the book. I immediately sprang at the opportunity to write for this blog. There were hundreds of entries. Since there were so many good entries, the first prize was expanded to the top five best entries. In addition to the free book, the winners would also receive a subscription to The Onion. Well, the first winner was announced and there were scores of complaints about the quality of the entry. Commentators complained that it wasn’t written in the same style, that it wasn’t funny, etc. With each winning entry announced, the complaints grew more vocal. Soon, readers started posting their own submissions in the comments. Okay, so did I! And since I wrote it, I’m posting it here for the sake of posterity! 🙂
When choosing a college major, white people often choose the tried and true English major rather than the last resort of Undeclared. When asked why, they will give the convincingly believable reason that an English major will help them get accepted into law or med school. Worst case scenario is that they can always go to grad school for that arts degree and work at the local coffee shop and be the most intelligent, misunderstood barista there. Being misunderstood adds to the mystique of the English major.
Whenever a college student announces that he or she is an English major, be sure to state, “But you already know English!” This will reaffirm his or her belief that no understands the value of a great liberal arts program. When speaking to an English major, whether a current student or a proud graduate, always comment on how well they speak English and how flawless their grammar is. Also mention the decline of the English language since the Elizabethan Era. Many English majors have learned some very funny jokes while enduring long, boring seminars on Chaucer and the Romance of the Rose. They will even share these jokes with you if you let your guard down. English majors are proud of the fact that they are English speakers.
When engaging in a conversation with an English major, be sure to nod in agreement but never interrupt. There is no need to start an argument with an English major. Oftentimes, he or she will start one without your assistance. For example, the conversation may suddenly turn to The Wasteland, and without your aid, he or she will begin arguing whether T.S. Eliot was American or British. Be sure not to get involved in the argument. You will not win. If you would like to change the subject of the argument, simply mention how you always felt that the Nobel Committee screwed James Joyce.
In order to gain the confidence and friendship of an English major, be sure to ask about his or her writing: “What are you working on now?” But don’t expect an answer immediately. In fact, don’t expect to learn any details about anything he or she has ever written. He or she will tell about how difficult it is to write. Be sure to ask to read a recent work. Of course, the reply will be, “I haven’t let anyone read it yet. Very few people will understand all the literary allusions.” Give them a consoling look and say, “It must be hard to write with all the long hours you put in at the coffee shop.”
You may think that rock, paper, scissors is only a child’s game, but they actually have a world championship in which contestants from all over the world compete. Well, that got me to thinking about the game. This is a game for all ages. The entire family can play. There’s no equipment to buy. The rules are simple and cheating is impossible. Chances are no one will get hurt while playing, unless college students play it as a drinking game. The game is easy to play. Everyone forms a circle and makes a fist that is raised and lowered three times. On the third downward stroke, the hand must form one of three things: Rock (fist), Paper (hand held open with palm down), or Scissors (index and middle fingers mimicking a pair of scissors). Rock breaks Scissors. Paper covers Rock. Scissors cut Paper. The beauty of this game is that no one player has an unfair advantage. Size doesn’t matter. Neither does gender or speed. Not even skill or luck! Everyone has a shot at winning. Each item, is a potential winner or loser. Beauty, eh? It’s a great game for choosing who goes first for another game.
Well, we are like each of those items. We, too, possess this duality that coincides beautifully with the yin and yang symbol. We are a rock in that sometimes we must be strong and forceful, but that won’t always work for us because someone who becomes paper will defeat us. So we have to choose what we become carefully. Unlike the game in which chance plays a huge part because we don’t know what the other player(s) will show, in real life we can adapt to the situation and use the appropriate object. We must constantly change accordingly. Anyone who consistently uses one object will surely fail. We must constantly evaluate our surroundings and adapt. Rock, paper, scissors is the perfect metaphor for life.
I wear glasses. I’ve worn them ever since I was in grade school at Holy Cross. The optometrist told me if I wore them while I was young, I wouldn’t need them when I was older. What a lie! I’m still wearing glasses.
I bring up glasses because, as of today, all three out three of my sons (I have no daughters! Alas!) wear eyeglasses. Today, Adam and Alex picked up their new glasses from the optometrist. Adam wasn’t so happy about this, but Alex was exploring his newly corrected vision as if they gave him a new super power, like the kind of super powers that comic-book heroes have.
I knew Adam needed glasses a few weeks ago when we went to the concession stand after his Little League game and he couldn’t read the sign that listed the food for sale. Alex was wandering around the house looking at everything with a renewed appreciation of his eyesight and only now realizing what everything really looked like. For instance, he could read the titles of books that were way up on the top shelf. He never realized that there were words up there.
That reminded me of when I got my glasses at age ten; I should have gotten them three years earlier, but my parents didn’t want to spend all that money just for glasses. My grades would improve and then I would want to go to college!
So when I finally got my glasses, I saw a whole new world. I remember walking home from the optometrist and seeing the trees near my house, as if for the first time. I mean, the green part at the top of the trees consisted of many individual leaves! I knew that, but now I could actually see them for myself. At church before school, I always stared at the girl’s brown coat in front of me. I always liked the brown shade of her coat, the way it wasn’t consistently brown. Then, when I got my glasses, I was excited to learn that her coat was not just brown, but also made from corduroy. And corduroy has lines! I never saw the lines before I got my glasses.
My sons laughed when I told them that I discovered that her coat was made of corduroy. There was one downside to my new glasses until I got used to wearing them. When I looked down at the ground as I walked, it slowly waved up and down as if it were made from Jell-O. If I looked too closely, I wasn’t sure where to put my foot. My sons also thought this was funny.
I’ve been teaching college Spanish for twelve years now every student has his or her own reason for studying Spanish. Most college students take Spanish because of the foreign language requirement. I remember one of these students who barely passed the course. When I returned her first exam, I felt bad for her because she only earned a D. When she saw her exam grade, she shouted, “Yes!” I was worried that perhaps I had given her the wrong grade. The entire class turned to look at her. She then shouted, “Yes, I got a D!” She was so proud of herself. She went through this ritual after every exam. I gave her a final grade of D for the course. The next semester, I saw her in the hallway and I was hoping she wouldn’t see me because I thought she was unhappy about her grade. But alas, she saw me and approached. Suddenly, she smiled and said, “Thanks for the grade you gave me!” And she was genuinely happy about it. Then, she added, “I had a lot of fun in your class.” I was shocked by all this, but I must admit that it was all very rewarding.
So I was thinking of other reasons that my students took Spanish. Here are some:
I’ve always wanted to learn Spanish.
My wife speaks Spanish.
My husband speaks Spanish.
It’s a beautiful language.
I want to go to Mexico on vacation.
Most of my customers speak Spanish.
My parishioners speak Spanish.
I want to move to Mexico.
I want to go to a Mexican restaurant and order food in Spanish.
I want to see Penelope Cruz movies in Spanish.
There are so many Mexicans here, we’re all going to have to learn Spanish anyway.
I want a sexy Mexican girlfriend.
I’m Mexican and I can’t speak Spanish.
I think the cooks in the kitchen are talking about me.