Sunday, September 13, 2009

Mistaken identity

Today I called my friend Jocelyn, a sociologist who specializes in Latin America and speaks fluent Spanish. We'd been playing phone tag, and I was a little surprised when she answered her cell phone "Hola". But she has caller ID and she knows I speak Spanish as well, so I figured she was just being silly. I returned the greeting, "Hola, Jocelyn, ¿cómo estás?" and after a pause I heard her say in English, "I'm sorry...who am I speaking with?" Apparently her caller ID hadn't been functioning and she'd assumed I was her Colombian nanny.

It reminded me of a similarly funny incident that happened to me as a teenager once when my father was out of town. He'd usually call home every night, so one evening I answered the phone to hear a familiar voice ask in Mandarin whether my father was there. I thought, "Ha ha, very funny" and responded in a little girl's voice, "我不知道" ("I don't know"). He kept playing along, asking why I didn't know, to which I responded, "我聽不懂!" ("I don't understand!") Suddenly, I heard him speaking to a woman in the background who then got on the line to talk to me, and I realized in horror: This is not my father. By then I was mortified, and beyond the limits of my Mandarin, so there was only one possible course of action.


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