I adore Carmen, my salsa-loving Mexican wife, to infinity and beyond, and I would never consciously make fun of her. But I laugh every time we spend Christmas with my family because Carmen gets so hyped up after a few glasses of punch that her tongue turns furry, her otherwise good English becomes confuzzled, and she tends to say the funniest things imaginable.
The other day, while my mom tried to conquer the culinary world with her spinach and cheddar casserole, Carmen, a self-proclaimed food critic, lurked in the shadows, ready to steal and claim the recipe as her own.
Mom stirred the stew, added a dollop of extra-heavy cream, and tasted a bit with a wooden spoon.
“Meh…Too bland. Needs more pepper,” she said as if the dish had just insulted her taste buds and required a spicy comeback.
Carmen, who was watching and had already indulged in several glasses of punch, turned into a walking, talking word smoothie!
“Je… Jenny. You’ve gotta a green secret admirer on your teat,” she slurred.
Mom sneakily looked down and said, “Nope, no spinach on my bosom.”
Carmen shook her head as if it were a piñata.
“Not on your bosom! On your teat!”
So there I was, expertly wrapping presents in the living room when I overheard the conversation that screamed for a “John to the rescue!” mission. It was like a scene from a Tom Cruise movie, except instead of car chases, it was all about gift-wrapping and Dad drinking beer.
“She’s just trying to say you have a spinach garden growing on your TEETH! Talk about the latest dental trend in this family...” I shouted while Dad erupted into a fit of laughter that made his beer do a high dive, leaving a foamy mess on the carpet.
The whole thing was entirely innocent and ended in our shared merriment.
Something similarly innocent happened after we visited the funfair in Gloucester, Massachusetts, a few days before, where a massive rollercoaster swirled, coiled, and sped up and down the track like a gigantic metal snake while people screamed, and Carmen and I watched in awe.
“Ready to dive headfirst into a wacky fair extravaganza?” I eagerly grabbed Carmen’s hand and whisked her away to a magical land of nostalgia, where my favorite childhood game awaited like a long-lost friend who owed me money. You know, the kind of game that goes well with slushies so cold they make your teeth do the Macarena.
“It’s called Whack-a-mole,” I exclaimed, “And believe it or not, but I used to be a mole-whacking champion at twelve!”
It was not until we got home that Carmen, cheeks flushed from the cold but belly warm from mulled wine, recounted her experience to Mom and Dad. She couldn’t stop talking about the rollercoaster and how much fun we had playing… guacamole…
Again, we laughed a lot, and Dad promised to propose the game for the next Olympics.
But things took a wild turn when we did our pre-wedding sessions with Father O’Brien, an old priest who’s been around since the dinosaurs roamed the Earth. You know, the kind who wears a traditional cassock like it’s the latest fashion trend and insists on saying mass in Latin with a heavy Irish brogue to keep the congregation on their toes.
I regaled him with the epic tale of how Carmen and I met and painted a vivid picture of our future together, complete with three little rascals and a marriage that would only end when the Grim Reaper himself threw in the towel.
Until Carmen decided to discuss some issues that were bothering her. In defense of the punch, it was not to be blamed this time.
“I’m a proud Mexican father, and I need John to understand our cultural differences. Because John wants to fuckus here, while I don’t want to fuckus exclusively in America. I need to do it in my country, too.”
The priest’s nose tip went from red to eggshell white, and his jaw hit the floor like a cartoon character. He had not expected such a blunt confession during a pre-wedding counseling meeting!
“What she means, father, is that I want to fo-cus… Get it? Focus on living in the United States while she wants to share the time between the two countries. Talk about wanting to have your cake and eat it too! I mean, who needs just one country when you can have two? She’s really taking the whole “sharing is caring” thing to a new level!”
I blabbered on and on, hoping to convince him that we had zero intentions of getting into any wild shenanigans in either country and that it was just my future wife’s, um, unique way of pronouncing things.
But Carmen got her own back when we went to her sister Rosario’s wedding in Guadalajara, where she effortlessly navigated between English and Spanish, leaving me in awe of her bilingual skills.
This time, it was a “Carmen to the Rescue” mission when I spilled a bottle of the finest Valle de Cholula Olive Oil on her sister’s wedding dress.
“Lo siento. Estoy tan embarazado,” I apologized.
Rosario blinked a few times, looked at her dress that now resembled a Banksy masterpiece, and responded in English that would make Shakespeare proud.
“I can see that you want to lose a few pounds, John, and I suspect you might be harboring a watermelon in there. But I doubt you are pregnant.”
Carmen roared with laughter. Because here’s a fun fact: “embarazado” in Spanish doesn’t mean embarrassed; it actually means pregnant.
So that’s it, folks. I will never again scoff at Carmen’s blueberry “pancays” or how she whoops joyfully at the Yankees’ “honrons.”
That time in Guadalajara, I devoured an entire buffet of humble pie, busted my misconceptions, and fully embraced our cultural differences. Forever.