I got a new Wrong Number Giver-Outer recently, one whose friends and relatives speak Spanish. Very quickly. On my voice mail. A lot. I cannot determine the tone of these messages because I don't know the language very well: I know its grammatical structure is closely linked to other Romanic languages such as French, which I profess to know having once successfully navigated Montreal's red light district in search of the one supermarket open between strip clubs without having to use a word of English. I also spoke a lot of it in Paris and can still say "oui" in the world-weary, resigned Parisian accent and it's awesome. But for practical purposes, my command of the Spanish language is limited to numerous bits of pop cultural debris and a few choice phrases guaranteed to get me into trouble no matter where I go.
I got a lovely call a while ago this afternoon when I was sleeping off the Sci-Fi Marathon and wasn't a treat that was. More on that later. I was in such a deep sleep that I probably wouldn't have heard the phone ring if I hadn't set it on vibrate and then placed it on my end table next to a pile of change. That's a pretty rousing sound to be honest. The call came from an unfamiliar number, one not in my phone contacts, and that's usually a warning sign right there. However, the area code was local and on the off-chance that it might be someone I know and should have had in this phone the whole time, I answered.
"Spanish spanish spanish spanish maybe-something-sounding-like-Ernesto spanish spanish spanish?" said the person on the other line.
"Eh?" I grunted, doing my part to ensure effective, clear communication.
"Spanish spanish Ernesto spanish?" I figured I had to respond somehow, and presumably in Spanish as well since that's what opened this conversation. Another important Speaking French lesson I had learned when I was that you stood to gain more respect from the locals by making a passing attempt to, you know, actually speak the language rather than immediately asking if they knew English or worse, assuming they knew it in the first place. "Okay brain," my sleep-addled and drowsy brain said to itself, "Let's convey the message that you are not Ernesto and that this is the wrong number. Shit, what's Spanish for wrong?"
"No es Ernesto," I mumbled into the phone. "No es... numero. No habla Espanol."
This triggered a very long sentence in Spanish which ended in what I could determine were phone numbers. Numbers I had learned from Sesame Street! I know these! This must be the Wrong Number tradition of asking "So is this string of digits the ones I actually dialled into my phone?" This I could at least clarify.
"No no no," I said. "Es, um, seis-uno-siete, cinco-zero... zero? zero ocho... no, no es ocho, es, um..." and then I trailed off because if Spanish was anything like French, you say the last four digits as a pair of two-digit numbers and Big Bird had only taught me how to count to twenty. Trailing off left a very useful pause which led to the other end finally understanding "no habla Espanol" and giving up.
"Who is this?" they asked. I hate that question. It's not like knowing any answer other than "Not the person you want" will help. And shouldn't I be asking the questions? Who is this mystery Spanish speaker, who is Ernesto, and how can I find him to tell him he'd best look at the number on his shiny new cellphone again? Such questions would have to wait. I was still half-asleep. No, I was more than that, I was 3/4 asleep, I was bleary, and I was cranky. So I went for the simplest answer.
"Somebody who can't speak Spanish worth a damn," I said, and hung up. It is hard to effectively hang up dramatically with modern phones. Used to be could you just throw the receiver back down onto the hook and it'd land with a satisfying crash on your end and an abrupt click on theirs and it all felt so good. Nowadays if I want to go out with a dramatic flourish I have to dramatically take the headset away from my face, dramatically look at the touchscreen, and dramatically jab at the "END CALL" button, making sure to dramatically hold it down so the phone recognizes I that I really mean it. Take that, caller!
Ah, well. We sacrifice the little touches for technology. On the other hand, it's a small price to pay so I can play Mahjongg and WordFeud. And Game Dev Story. I hate you Game Dev Story for killing my phone batteries.
This is not the point where you helpfully throw out Spanish phrases or such for me to use in future communications. Thank you for the gesture, but that is not what this post is about. This post is all about being woken up by a phone call in a foreign language and how much fun it is when the bleary brain decides to communicate in kind without real working knowledge. If I glibly knew what to say, where's the fun in that? I am sure I could stitch together lines from a phrasebook or translating website or something. And maybe I will at some point, because I really like it when I know how to communicate. But for now I think I'll just maintain silence and wait for Ernesto to start telling his friends no, really, he didn't get that important call, are you sure you called 617-5... oh look, the number was wrong all along. (Only in this case he'd be saying that in Spanish.) It happens eventually to all Wrong Number Giver Outers. Time and history are on my side. I can wait.