The “rr”s started rolling into “l”s on the flight from Mexico City to Panama. “Bienvenidos a boldo,” said a flight attendant named Frank, whose gelled hair was approaching Daddy Yankee helmet-head status. I even comprehended all of the captain’s warnings before they were translated into English, which is nothing to sneeze at considering two years ago I thought Juanes was saying goodbye to someone named “Lepido.”*
The rest of the transition from Mexican to Puerto Rican Español was gradual, as though a handful of syllables parachuted from the plane at each 1,000-mile mark across the Caribbean. By the time my connecting flight from Panama had reached San Juan, “como estas” only had enough syllables for “o as.” Still, when I arrived at San Juan’s Luis Munoz Marin International Airport, I tried to forget the fact that it usually takes me about a month to translate a Calle 13 song. (“Quitate el esmalte” se dice “take off your nail polish,” i.e., let your hair down. *)
I’ve been living in Mexico City for a year and have had to perform all kinds of important tasks – everything from getting my tooth pulled to cursing out a dude who cut in front of me in the Banamex line – in Spanish. I wasn’t going to be intimidated by a regional accent. Not this Chilangabacha.
Alas, I was gobsmacked by my first opportunity for on the ground communication. “Cuanto cuesta un taxi al Caribe Hilton?” The tipo with the huge cubic zirconia studs in his ears looked at me like I was dragging around a dog on fire instead of luggage. “Uhhh, what?” I continued the rest of the exchange in English, with my ego deflated.
I guess I should have looked at this list of slang before I arrived because these types of interactions happened througout my five days in San Juan. I caught on a little bit, but my confidence was definitely knocked down a couple of notches. I finally felt better when I ran into a Chilango in the “jugo chino” line. “Que pedo con esa pinche idioma, guey,” he said. That, I understood.
* The song is actually called “A Dios Le Pido” or “I ask God.”