So last night I was trying to tell Francisco, the salad and dessert cook, that I needed to somehow pick up a brandy ice and a brownie (two melty ice cream dishes) without either one melting while the other was prepared. I started explaining this, when he said, "No comprendo, Regina. No puedo hablar ninguna palabra de inglés." One of the few truly bilingual workers at Carson's was standing nearby and she said to me, "He doesn't understand any English." So I turned to her and said, "Well, what do you think? I need to get a brandy ice and a brownie but I don't want the brandy ice to melt while I'm getting the brownie or the brownie to melt while I'm getting the brandy ice, so how do I do this?" Lupe turned to Francisco and translated this and we eventually figured it out.
But I was left wondering, how can Francisco say he doesn't understand a word of English? English-speaking servers give him instructions all the time. I know he doesn't understand all of it, but he's got to understand some of it or Otto and Myles would never get their orders the way they want.
I puzzled over this until it occurred to me that maybe Francisco is doing the same thing I do. I constantly say, "I don't speak Spanish," (and I often say it in Spanish) because I don't want people expecting more than I can give. If I say I speak NO Spanish, all I can do is surprise them when I can actually do speak some. This is much less painful than saying I speak Spanish (which I would never say) and then disappointing them.
So maybe Francisco and I are playing the same game, our defense in an environment that requires more than we can actually do.