My Pet, the Peeve
By Mary Adkins
Except for Gill, the unlucky goldfish, whom we may have inadvertently buried alive when I was in third grade, I have given away every pet I’ve ever owned. I once put a cat on Craigslist (although it was her fault we could not get along, I maintain). The one pet that’s stuck with me, I’m not proud to say, is the peeve. Here are tales of living with the sole critter I’ll never let go… and feeling guilty about it.
I’ve always wanted to be bilingual. My college roommate slides naturally from English to Spanish, rolling her Rs with ease before jumping back into standard American jargon.
Unfortunately, eight years of French—six before college and two during—plus a semester in Paris left me merely “proficient,” according to my resume. And by that I mean I can recite one French Christmas carol, the conjugation of “to be” (mostly), and three curse words.
During my language course in Paris, I struggled magnificently to comprehend the readings and to write my assignments. A true nerdesse, I stayed in to study while my nineteen-year-old peers went out clubbing and traveled around Europe meeting men with accents and smoking habits. After my final oral presentation—which I rehearsed aloud, alone in my hostel for hours, until I noticed an older French woman watching me with concern through her window—my teacher smiled at me with sympathy and said, “Ah.”
“Pardon?” I asked.
“Your grade,” he said in English. Oh. “A” in French.
Pity “A” notwithstanding, I don’t get languages and have stopped trying to. So when a friend recently took on the task of learning a brand new language in her late twenties, I was super impressed. Kudos galore to her… at least until she began constantly speaking in her new tongue to me—who understands none of it—for practice. All. The. Time.
A few weeks ago, walking around town, I asked if she wanted to go into a store. She answered in choppy Spanish that probably meant something like, “Girl likes shopping, yes, to want.”
“Okay, we can skip it!” I responded. Translation: STOPTALKINGINSPANISHORI’LLJUSTMAKEUPWHATYOUSAID.
But when she ducked into the boutique happily, I followed.
This went on throughout the afternoon—she’d test her Spanish on me at every opportunity, I’d try different, passive-aggressive tactics to subvert her. By dinner, I had given up. As we stared into our menus, I waited for her to launch into Español. The waiter approached, and my friend offered her order… in Spanish.
Finally, she’s gone too far, I thought. Preparing myself for her humiliation, I studied my lap to avoid the awkwardness and waited for the server to inform her of his incomprehension. He would be embarrassed; she would feel foolish; and I would come to the rescue with my social graces. I warmed up mentally for the sorry-for-my-crazy-friend look. But no. He began jabbering away. Back and forth, back and forth, they chattered in words I couldn’t follow, eventually turning to me.
“I was just telling Steve that you don’t speak Spanish,” she said, and resumed flirting.
I gave them the no-teeth grin with the hilarious-no-really-it’s-not eyes—which they didn’t notice—and decided on a burger, recalling that the word for hamburger is the same in both French and English, and that envious is envieuse.