The confusion began a couple of weeks ago. Scott told me that to say “excuse me” in Spanish, I could use “Con permiso” or “Discúlpeme”. For Non-Spanish speakers, and for the sake of this discussion, you need to understand that the consonant sounds in Spanish are very soft, and often, it is difficult for me to hear the subtle differences in their sounds. Also, with all the small conjunctive words in Spanish, it is easy to mistake a consonant –vowel sound at the beginning of a word, as a conjunction, or even as the end of the previous word. Because of these conjunctions, Spanish is spoken really fast. So Scott said “Use “Discúlpeme”” and I heard “Escúpeme”. For some reason, I can never remember “Con Permiso”, so I have been using the words that I thought that I heard him say: “escúpeme”. So for almost 3 weeks, getting on the bus, crowding past other passengers to find a place to hang on, I politely say “Escúpeme”. Walking down a crowded aisle in a market, I politely say “Escúpeme”. Passing someone on the very thin walkways that pass for sidewalks here in Córdoba, I politely say “Escúpeme”. So today, I needed to ask a courtesy clerk a question (in my very limited Spanish), so I walked up to her and politely said “Escúpeme por favor, donde esta…”. She answered my question with the expected “por aquí”, which is a whole different discussion… Whenever you ask where something is, it is always “por aquí”, “por allá” or “adelante” (“this way”, “that way”, or “straight ahead”) regardless of whether there are more directions needed. These words are almost always the instructions that you receive, along with the admonition the “you just can’t miss it”. So anyway, Scott and I walked off in the direction she indicated. Understand that whenever I manage communication in Spanish, an actual exchange with a stranger, no matter how small, I feel like I have jumped a major hurdle. It doesn’t matter that I generally have no clue what was said back to me, only that I spoke in Spanish and the other person understood me. So as we walked away and I was telling Scott about my successful conversation, I explained that I had walked up to the clerk and said: “Escúpeme”… Scott replied with “¿Discúlpeme?” (Correcting my pronunciation.) I countered with “No, I said “Escúpeme”, you know, “Excuse me””. At which point, Scott explained that “escúpeme” means “spit on me” in Spanish, and “discúlpeme” means “excuse me”. So for 3 weeks, I have been all over town saying “spit on me” to everyone! Crowding past people on the bus… “Spit on me.” Passing people on the tiny sidewalks… “Spit on me.” Asking a courtesy clerk for help… “Spit on me.”
Ahhh, the joys of learning a foreign language… Sometimes, all you can do is laugh.