Why Is The Table A Woman?

I travel to Mexico frequently and I am desperately trying to learn some Spanish. (Yes, Sister Madeline – I should have paid more attention in Spanish class back in high school! But so far, “¿Donde esta la biblioteca?” hasn’t helped me much.)

What I find most confusing is the gender assignment of nouns. Who decided that the fork (el tenedor) is a male and the spoon (la cuchara) is woman? Also cats, dogs and horses – are all masculine (so I’m not sure how they get more cats, dogs and horses) while kitchens, tables and chairs are female but the plates resting on the table are male. My wife would say that once again the women are doing the heavy lifting in this arrangement.

Who assigned the sexes to nouns anyway? Probably some frustrated Spanish monk, locked away in a dreary monastary on some stoney coastline, tired of all the prayer and self-flagellation. He might have thought, “Hey, this could be fun!” “Let’s make tables female!” Otherwise it could all just be something very Freudian, hence el polo (the pole) and la copa (the cup). On the other hand, towers are femine and canyons are masculine. So I remain confused. 

It gets particularly interestings with plurals. Let me explain: nieto is grandson. Nieta is granddaughter. But grandchildren are nietos (the masculine). Often my director in Mexico City will ask about my grandsons, even though she knows that I have only one grandson and three granddaughters. The same goes for friends, who may be amigos and amigas but together they are all amigos. And on and on…

El AngelDon’t get me wrong, English is just as confusing for non-English speakers. What with our there, their, and they’re; not to mention, wind or wind, tear or tear and lead or lead. I feel sorry for anyone trying to learn our language.

Still Spanish is my struggle and I find some amount of humor in all the gender confusion. No doubt I have provided much needed laughter to an overworked restaurant employee when I have asked for a table with a veiw but more likely asked if her legs could support two persons and would she mind if we sat on her while looking out a window.

In my defense, the most important monument in Mexico City, which is within view of my office – El Ángel de la Independencia (“The Angel of Independence”) is sexually confused. El Ángel – masculine. The actual angel on top of  El Ángel, well she’s a woman.

¡Dios Mio! Thankfully I have Google Translate on my iPhone…




10 Things You Should Know About Mexico City

I’ve been working in Mexico City again this week and I’ve made some ‘not so keen’ observations that might help others that travel to this beautiful city of nearly nine million people.

Here goes:

  1. People appreciate it greatly when you “try” to speak Spanish – even a little bit. It’s not too hard to remember “si” or “buenos dias” or “gracias”. I’m always greeted with smiles when I speak Spanish (or perhaps they’re just suppressing their need to laugh at my poor pronunciation).
  2. Men don’t wear shorts here. Only children and touristas.
  3. Public prayer is encouraged. In the El Palacio de Hierro department store in which we were installing a new shop there was a small shrine to Our Lady of Guadalupe at the employee entrance. Several people blessed themselves upon arrival or departure from work. Imagine that at a Macy’s!
  4. Margaritas are for girls. Next time order a Michelada or a tequila.
  5. Refried beans is the breakfast of campeones! Just eat it. It’s great with your eggs.
  6. Mexico City is in a valley of mountains; the elevation is high and the air is dry. Wear a sweater at night. It gets cool even in the summer – nobody will think you’re a sissy (unless of course you order a Margarita).
  7. There is a rich and vibrant history here. There is French, German, and English colonial heritage as well as Spanish. The Mexican people have also held on to many native customs and traditions. How sad for the U.S. that the same is not true.
  8. Mexicans work hard. My installation crew here could easily “out-work” any crew I’ve had in the U.S. or Europe.
  9. Films dubbed in Spanish in Spain are annoying to Mexicans – According to Jorge, “Rambo or Rocky shouldn’t speak ‘proper Spanish’ with the lisp!” “Muy loco!”
  10. If you look like me people will ask you if you’re Steve Martin – happens every time I’m down here. I usually just smile and say “si” or “buenos dias” or “gracias”.

Evening sky over Mexico City

    I’m looking forward to getting home tomorrow but I will miss Cuidad de Mexico a little. Especially Jorge, Hector, Gustavo, Miguel, Marco and Marcela who did an amazing job this week and welcomed me into their city as well.

Tonight it seems only fitting that I ask Our Lady of Guadalupe to watch over each of them. May she intervene on their behalf and ask her Son our Lord to bless them and their families.

Oh yes – #11. We’re very Catolico down here, too.



Below is a link to a slide show from my trip this week – disfrutar!


Mexico Revisted

I think that this is the 10th time I’ve been in Mexico in less than a year. I love it here. The people. The food. The weather. And my favorite new drink ~ Michelada.

I’ve had the advantage of traveling on business and staying in some pretty nice places. And the “work” has been mainly touring retail shops in department stores after they have been installed. I’ve visited a couple of factories. And I’ve been to the corporate offices of Liverpool Department Stores which is a huge chain here in Mexico – think Macy’s.

But yesterday was ‘poco loco’. I started my day at Liverpool Santa Fe (which is in an upscale section of Mexico City. I was ‘invited’ by my customer at Jones New York® to join a merchandise and marketing training session. This is not really my gig (I’m the fixture guy) but I agreed to attend. I guess it’s hard to say no to a customer.

So there I was with about 100 Mexican merchandise coordinators and apparel specialists (whatever in hell that is). Everyone of course was speaking Spanish – everyone except me. The Director of Marketing for Jones New York® is bi-lingual and most people assumed I was as well. Actually some of my encounters were quite amusing. After some rapid-fire Spanish dialog, I would just meekly say “No habla Espanol”. I’m not certain what the response to that always was but I think it was usually Spanish for “WHY ARE YOU HERE?” I definitely heard “stupido” which I think means “You seem nice but you should go home.”

Later that morning I “helped” with a marketing presentation. The Jones® Marketing Director addressed the crowd, while I sat in a control booth and operated the computer that advanced the PowerPoint slides in her presentation which were then projected on 3 large screens in the auditorium. It sounds easy but it’s only easy if you speak Spanish. I did my best. Let’s just leave it at that. After the PowerPoint presentation I was allowed to take a seat in the auditorium for the Q & A portion of the program. I wasn’t expecting to have to answer any questions but once again I was wrong. And then it came – MY QUESTION. Rocio one of the Liverpool ‘Spanish speakers’ looked at me and said “Denis can you answer that?” I sort of understood something about maniqui (mannequins) and vestidas (dresses) and mesas (tables) and damas grande (large women). And when I gave my answer it was very very funny – I just have no idea what I said. Dios mio!

Later in the day back at my hotel I got trapped between floors in the elevator. After pushing the ‘EMERGENCIA’ button and saying very loudly “NO HABLA ESPANOL” “I’M TRAPPED! I’M TRAPPED! HELP! HELP!” The voice on the speaker asked for my hotel room number. Seriously??? Why did the voice need my room number? Then the voice said “okay Denis, we’ll get you out.” After about 5 minutes which seemed like 5 hours to a crazy, claustrophobic, uno-lingual speaker, the elevator finally moved. When I stepped out of the elevator it was about 10 inches above the floor and of course I nearly fell. What a day!

Jones New York Collections at Liverpool - Perisur

Today was much better. A conference call with my partners in the U.K. and then we toured stores. First Perisur. Then Coapa. And finally Satelite. My Spanish was much better today and I became the ‘official intrepter’. Jim who is one my Project Managers that is traveling with me understands no Spanish. I felt like an expert by comparison.

At dinner ‘esta noches’ I actually was quite fluent in Espanol.  Of course the Micheladas helped. And my guardian angel is always watching over me (his is not an easy job!).