This is sort of a poll, but it’s about language and restaurants. I think it goes in this forum, though.
So I was at a Mexican restaurant the other day, and I ordered the “Enchilada Mexicano.” I pronounced it the way it looks in English, with a hard “x”, even though I’m fairly certain the “x” in this case should have been pronounced with an “h” sound. The men who work at the restaurant are all Mexican and speak Spanish to each other. I am mostly of Irish descent and English is my first language.
I would have felt pretentious if I had pronounced it “Mehicanos” but I felt pretty hokey pronouncing it the way I did. I don’t think I would have felt as pretentious if my waiter hadn’t been Mexican, or any of my coworkers had made an attempt to pronounce their orders correctly.
What do you think? Should a person make an attempt to pronounce restaurant orders if he/she knows how they are supposed to be pronounced, or would that make that person seem like a know-it-all? What would you think if you were the waiter? My coworkers might have found it pretentious, but I don’t know what the Spanish-speaking waiter might have felt about it.
I think it depends on your familiarity with the language and your ability to pronounce it correctly when you attempt to use native pronunciation. A lot of pretension is also in attitude. I don’t think that politely asking for “Enchiladas Mehicanos” wouldn’t have been pretentious. However, if you were trying to pronounce something you’d never even seen without any familiarity with the language, but acting as though you were fluent, now that’s pretentious.
For some reason, I’m reminded of this SNL clip I once saw with Victoria Jackson. In the clip, she had taken some Spanish classes and was in Nicaragua reporting on the Sandanistas. She pronounced every single Spanish word with very precise native Spanish pronunciation until finally the studio said, “Hey, so I see you’ve been taking some Spanish lessons there. They seem to be workin’ out pretty well…” It was hysterical. Oh, well. Guess you had to be there.
I had Mexican food for Lunch (Breakfast?, I hate this shift!) today and I was thinking about the old SNL skit with Jimmy Smits where everyone was overpronouncing everything in a PC clusterf*ck, Jimmy Smits wanted an Enchilda but the group acted like they didn’t understand him until he asked for (WARNING, phonetic spelling!!) an Enhilada. It has been my experience that folks who attempt “proper” pronounciations like that are eyed suspiciously and often laughed at.
If the waiter appears to be non-spanish speaking, I order in an American accent.
If the waiter appears to speak spanish, I order in Spanish.
You can almost always tell right off due to the accent when they say “chips and salsa”
For the record, I speak Spanish. When ordering in an American accent, I feel silly.
If you don’t mind, can I hijack this thread for a mini rant?
If you are a waiter who has learned bad language from one of the bus boys (or whoever), please don’t use that in the dinning area. You might think it’s really funny to call the bus boy a ‘pendejo’ but it’s not funny to me. Just because it’s not your language doesn’t make it less offensive - I don’t want my daughter picking up those words. Don’t think that because the people dinning look white that they are.
This has been my experience, too. Even though I speak Spanish and a few other languages, I rarely bother to pronounce things as though I were a native if I’m already speaking in English. I think that certain aspects of Spanish, such as the tilde and x/h sound, are wide-spread enough that no one will laugh at you if you pronounce it “Mehicanos” or “Mexicanos.” But for most other things, it sounds so, I don’t know, hokey to be speaking in regular English only to switch over. Perhaps it’s because I have to think for just that fraction of a second before the proper word comes out in a fit of over-pronounced “native-ness.” I think that’s probably why the waiters laugh - it just sounds really contrived if you’re not already speaking in that language. At least coming from me it does. It’s like going to an Indian restaurant and asking for something in Hindi. I could probably do it correctly, but it would sound like I was trying really hard.
I’d say Me-jicano because Mex-icano just hurts my ears. You don’t have to push the full out pronunciation, with trills and frills, but Mexicano just doesn’t have an x sound in it, so why tack it on?
One of the many great things I love about Mexico is how thrilled everyone seems to be when a foreigner learns their language. Not once has anyone looked down at me when I needed help or made a mistake. This may not be true in every part of the U.S., but from baja california to oklahoma, no one’s ever looked askance.
Not to hijack too much, but I was also wondering, since the menu specified mexican enchiladas, what other countries have enchiladas? Are they an import from Spain perhaps? Off to do a bit of research…
It depends on the word. I can’t think of an “American” way of saying Mexicanos that doesn’t make my ears hurt, either (the accent is in the wrong place, that “x,” the vowels. It’s just an icky, icky sound). So that would have to be <<Mejicanos>>.
But with most words, it’s the Americanized version.
I’m a native English speaker, but I know enough Spanish that I could probably carry on a small conversation with the waiter if I had to. I would speak awkwardly and slowly, but I could do it. Here’s what I’d do:
If I’m ordering in Spanish, I’ll use the best Spanish pronunciation I can.
If I’m ordering in English, I’ll pronounce things semi-correctly, but probably still use the English ‘x’. Suddenly switching in the middle of a sentence is just too weird.
Only two years of college Spanish here, not fluent by any stretch, yet I find it easy to slip into the correct Spanish pronunciation in the midst of an otherwise English sentence.
It grates on my nerves when people pronounce “tortillas” with an English “L” sound, for example. So I would tend to ask for “enchiladas Me-hicanos,” from habit. I think it indicates a knowledge of the cuisine, and a respect for the language.
I am very impressed by your patience. I worked in the natural history museum in Santiago, Chile, and attended one of the universities there, and never found such serenity. You must tell me your secret.
Or better yet, tell my husband’s family your secret. They’re in India - we’re going to visit this year or next, and I’m sure they’ll need all the patience they can get not to cringe at my mispronunciations of everything.
Ay! Tengo un gato en mi pantalones! No me gusta!
I usually don’t even try to pronounce Spanish words properly around Spanish speakers. I can hardly keep my English straight. Anyway, if they think I don’t understand Spanish, I might overhear something interesting.