Tuesday, June 12, 2007

A Surreal Spanish Moment

A week back, I was at an all day meeting, and met up with a guy in charge of enterprise disk architecture for the "New Client" called "E.J.". We bonded on choice of eyewear intially, but also connected because amongst my many conversational gambits, I am quite capable of speaking in the languages of Storage Area Network Architecture - though it's not my area of consulting, I can hum a few bars, and as a project manager it is ALWAYS helpful to have the geeks on your side. The best way to do that is to be able to speak their argot, though never superfluously - they can tell if you just picked up a few words and will try to humble you: No, you need to learn about what they do... and they will work with you.

I found the same about the French in my travels: If you start in English, they will stay in French, but if you start in French, they will help you out, speak in English if you need, and generally be a lot more helpful. But it can't be one or two words, you need to show you've invested time in learning their language and culture. A simple "EXXXKUUSAY MWAH" will not help... but a haltingly delivered "Puis-je vous donner un question?" will get a person to walk you clear across town to show you the way.

Anyway, the point was that this EJ and I were enjoying our discussion, and were about to part ways and were shaking hands when he fixed me with a look and said "y si yo puedo ajudarte en alguna maniera, estoy aqui." and without dropping a beat, mid shake I said "gracias senor, creo que podemos trabajar juntos, verdad?"

The room went silent and people turned to stare, and we burst out laughing. It was just a strange sight, a large African American and a tall white geek suddenly bursting into Spanish with no cause, but it just seemed right.

One more reason I'm a language addict - it opens up opportunities.

(Postscript - EJ and I did do some serious disk architecture work later, but kept it in English, mostly because "Dual Channel Gigabit HBA" and "Extendable LUNs" doesn't translate too well.)

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