Spanish and the CIA

The people of Ensenada don't seem particularly impressed with my Spanish.

Our first order of business when we arrived was to navigate the various bureaucratic formalities required for sailors to visit Mexico: we needed temporary nautical visas, then tourist visas, finally we had to go through customs. We also had a boat specific requirement, as Helios needed her own temporary import permit. We were a little anxious about getting the paperwork right as a year and a half ago there was a huge fiasco when the paperwork process got revamped, confusion ensued, and somewhere around 240 boats in Western Mexico were impounded.

All of the offices we needed to visit were, thankfully, located within one building just a few blocks away from Baja Naval (our marina and home here in Ensenada). It was a bright Wednesday morning, and Carlos sent us on our way with a cheat sheet telling us which window to go to first and to whom to give each our pertinent documents. We arrived at the Centro Integro de Servicios about 15 minutes after they opened, and decided to go ahead and refer to it as the CIA, because, let's face it, infiltrating the CIA is much more amusing than spending hours on end doing paperwork.

We went inside and were beyond relieved to find the office empty and not a single line at any of the stations.

We approached the first immigration station, and the woman in the booth looked friendly enough, with brown girls and mint green finger nails.

"¿Habla inglés?" I said

"Un poco..." she said, bowing her head forward and looking sheepish.

"Estamos aquí desde los estados unidos con nuestro barco," I said.

"You can just speak to me English," she said. Alrighty then, and off we went.

And things were going swimmingly until I presented the documents we had already completed. Being the proactive paper pusher that I am, I had researched the documents necessary to enter Mexico in advance and completed much of the process ahead of time. This seemed very confusing for this young woman, as it did for the women working at the subsequent stations, and processing our documents generally required quizzical looks and calls to managers for clarification. The lines began to grow behind us, I'm afraid.

So, if you're reading this and planning to take your boat into Mexico, don't waste your time. Just do the paperwork when you get to Ensenada.

We spent the next thirty or so minutes bouncing between stations at the CIA. At the Banjercito, we were told we needed to make copies of all our documents. I avoided the urge to point out that this woman had a copy machine right behind her, when she instructed us to go out front to a separate office to make copies.

Dominic and I approached the open doorway.

"Necesitamos hacer cópias," I said.

"I speak English," she said, with a definitive eye roll. "But it's nice that you're trying."

A few moments later, she smiled and handed us our copies, and about an hour after we entered the CIA, we departed, all of our official documents in hand. We proceeded to the row of cafes outside the fish market, and celebrated our survival with fish tacos that were miraculously delicious.

That afternoon we had a meeting with Hugo, the boatyard manager, to discuss the work we're having done on the boat. Hugo is about our age and after chatting for 20 minutes, he opened some of the emails he and I had exchanged for reference and started to giggle.

"Your emails make me laugh," he said. "Its not just your Spanish, which also made me laugh, but you have everything in meters when we use feet."

I giggled along with him and Dominic at the time, but I would like the record to reflect that Mexico officially began using the metric system in 1862.

Dominic's theory as to why my Spanish gets this response is because it is formal, and free from any shorthand or slang. He's probably right, I learned Spanish in high school and college, and (as in English) I've always been better at reading and writing than speaking.

I remember when studying abroad at Barcelona I was in my favorite sangria bar chatting with a Spaniard, and I wanted to ask him how often he visited.

After taking a minute to think about it, the question came out as: "¿Con que frequencia vienes a este establicimiento?"

This roughly translates to: "With what frequency do you visit this establishment?"

So there you have it, formal, and a bit antiquated. I readily admit that if I worked at the DMV and someone came up to the counter and started speaking to me in Regency Era English, I would probably give roll my eyes like the woman at the CIA and tell them to just speak to me like a normal person. But if they took the time to write a formal, culturally sensitive, Regency Era email?  I would be thrilled.