a wandering woman writes

Friday, August 05, 2005

Sign here please

One of the hardest things about learning to speak Spanish well, for me at least, is the sheer drama of the language. Spanish is big. Bold. Spanish draws attention to the speaker, as he rrrrrolllls elegant r's and hisses guttural j's ..jjjjamón....

I struggled a long time with j's and r's and the ever nethethary lithp..Spain's lispy soft c.

You just can't speak Spanish and not take risks. This is not a conservative language. Nothing about Spanish is understated.

English, on the other hand, is appropriately reserved. English holds back. Stays professional. English keeps a stiff upper lip, literally and figuratively. English expresses in 8 short words what might take a literary Spaniard 4 paragraphs.

So now that I've finally conquered my stage fright, now that I rrrrooolllllllll my r's and hhhhhhhhhhhhhack the jjjjjjjjjjjjjj in jjjjjjjjjjamón, the Spanish are after my signature.

Seems it's understated. Reserved. Foreign.

The bank teller pushed the check I was cashing back at me today, straight across the tabletop, without a pause. He was pointing at my appropriately conservative signature on the back, impatiently tap-tap-tapping my sweet little 4 centimeter signature.

-Is this a signature? Incredulous.

-Well, yes.

He laughed. At my signature! (Firma, in Spanish.) Laughed!

I agreed it wasn't a Spanish signature, the way I usually add "Well it's not a Spanish name" as I watch the panic grow on the face of any Spaniard who's just been asked to write my name.

And we laughed some more. At least I make friends.

Last month his colleague passed my check back to me and told me I'd forgotten to sign it --- except I hadn't forgotten.

When I got back to the office yesterday I collected autographs. Large, flowery firmas from the ladies, bold, brazen scribbles from the men, every one of them finished with a well-practiced freehand flourish under the name --- sharp lines or intersecting curves emphatically underlining each firma's crystal clear message:

THIS IS MY SIGNATURE. And I've taken the time to develop it into a work of art. And I'll take up of as much of the page as humanly possible.

Size matters, it would seem, in Spanish signatures.

If my signature drifts into your text, all the better.


Just to amuse my teller, I may work something up for my next check. Of course it won't match the signature on anything else I've ever signed, including the residency card I use to identify myself when cashing the monthly pay-the-landlady-in-sweet-untraceable-cash check that causes all this trouble.

But somehow I think he'll be happier. Integration and all that. Watching me learn to live in Spain.



  • I'm very envious of your Spanish language adventures. I spent 8 years in school on French only to move to a place where half the population speaks Spanish. I'm setting myself a new 'before I die' ambition of learning at least enough Spanish to ask for directions to the bathroom..

    By Anonymous hobbes22, at 12:47 AM  

  • Well, I did survive giving a fairly technical talk at work this week but I know I invented at least 15 words in the heat of the moment...good words, I thought, but who knows if they'll choose to keep them.....

    ps: so you can move on to more exciting before-you-die ambitions:
    ¿Dónde están los servicios?

    (or maybe try donde está el baño in your part of the world...)That should get you in..

    By Blogger wandering-woman, at 9:37 PM  

  • I am very glad to have found your blog and thoroughly enjoying the experiences you describe, as they are like a reverse mirror image for me. I'm a Spaniard "transplanted" to New York and I fondly remember my own adjustment to las sobrias firmas of this country. My firma, a firm remnant of my Spanishness, is a squiggly mess full of flourishes and vertical pride--hence hard to fit in American staunchly horizontal spaces for signatures. Early on, I came up with a different firma, an American one, straightforward, horizontal, legible. But the world disapproves of my reflecting my two identities in two different firmas and demands only one name, only one firma, only one identity. So I've just learned to fit my Spanish flair in American signature boxes. Quite the metaphore :)

    Hasta luego

    By Anonymous Pato, at 9:01 PM  

  • ...metaphor...

    should remember to preview

    By Anonymous Pato, at 9:15 PM  

  • Thanks, Pato! Eat a NY bagel for me, will you? A Spanish friend at work just got back from a business trip to NY, and her description of what she ate there (bagels, dimsum and a street hotdog with everything, for starters..) left me ready to kill for a good bagel with cream cheese and salmon....And a thin slice of onion and a few capers...

    And I am glad I'm not crazy woth this firma thing,, but I don't think we should conform, I've decided. You scribble way outside the American box (the only thing that isn't super-sized there, right?) and I'll make my teller buy new gafas. Deal?

    By Blogger wandering-woman, at 11:18 PM  

  • Deal! jajajajajaja... Truth is I love to desconcertar a la gente with my sudden wrist movements when signing. A small rebellious gesture to counteract the inevitable assimilation.

    I'll certainly eat a bagel a tu salud: sesame, onion, poppy, everything? your pick. I'll be sure to include the Bermuda onion slice and capers, although you probably have access to better capers there :) You don't like tomato with your bagel and lox?

    When I visit Spain, the two things (foodwise) that I miss terribly are bagels and sushi. I'm sure you can find both in big cities like Madrid, but I'm also sure they're nothing like what you can find here. On the other hand, what I wouldn't give for just a taste of jamón ibérico or real chorizo or un bocadillo de tortilla... or so many other delicious treats I've gotten used to yearning for without reprieve (sigh)


    By Anonymous Pato, at 1:50 AM  

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