Occasionally I enjoy watching ABC’s Modern Family. Both the writing and presentation are excellent, a difficult combination that tends to be lacking from many shows. But there’s another reason I find the show entertaining and that is the numerous witty misunderstandings that arise between the patriarch, Jay Pritchett, played by Ed O’Neill, and Gloria, played by Sofía Vergara, his Colombian-accented wife. In one episode she gave Jay a telephone in the shape of two big glossy red lips, getting him a ‘sexy phone’ instead of the saxophone he actually wanted. In another Jay mentions how much he likes those small baby cheeses and Gloria, meaning well, gets him a box of nativity scene baby Jesus statues.
I find these little misinterpretations chuckle-some because my significantly better half hails from Caracas, Venezuela and she and I have experienced several similar incidents. Not long after we met she called to tell me about some holiday shopping she had done. In the course of our telephone chat she mentioned she had seen some ‘Christmas socks for ducks’. Now as you can imagine this threw me for a bit of a loop yet not wanting to seem rude I inquired further about said socks. After a few repetitions of the phrase at a slow pace, I was able to discern that ‘ducks’ was in fact her Venezuelan-accented version of ‘dogs’ and of course the Christmas socks were Christmas stockings, hence Christmas stockings for dogs became Christmas socks for ducks.
Our first Thanksgiving Day brought another misunderstanding but this one was a lot less funny. With the turkey roasting merrily away I left her to prepare something on top of the stove while I went down two floors in our apartment building to see my mother. After a while my mobile rang and her panic-stricken voice on the other end told me our ‘kitchen’ was on fire. Sweet Jesus! Dashing madly up the two flights of stairs, I hauled the fire extinguisher off the wall outside our apartment and, expecting to see the kitchen fully engulfed in flames, ran inside only, thankfully, to find some grease on the stove-top flaming and smoking. No need for the extinguisher, a towel did the job. Once we were all clear I asked her why she had told me the kitchen was on fire and not just the stove. It was then that she explained how in Spanish the words for stove and kitchen are the same.
Another time, after innocently chatting with a cashier in the grocery store, and then bragging about being a ‘people person’, which I’m not, she jokingly accused me of ‘filtering’ with the cashier. I explained that the scolding would have had more effect had I been accused of flirting rather than filtering.
Mind you the most important bit of linguistic advice I have been able to impart to her is to stress the ‘o’ sound in the pronunciation of the word focus. For some reason, with her accent, she makes it sound like a ‘u’, and I have explained that it is highly inappropriate for her to demand that her grade school students ‘fukus’ on their work!