Marotta column for release September 27 – 30, 2007

Here’s what happens when you come out of an educational system that doesn’t require you to learn a language other than English: In the eyes of the world, you’re a dummy.

To see just how much of a dummy I am, I have come to the bathroom of my local Whole Foods store to study the Spanish-language half of the sign warning employees to wash up before returning to their work stations.

Now I know very well what the English half of the sign says because I was taught English in my 12 years of public schooling.

But the Spanish half? The Spanish half I am just a teensy bit less sure of since I have never learned a single thing about this language, which is spoken in the homes of more than 30 million Americans. 

Whereas the English version comes with a fat exclamation point, I notice that there are no such punctuation marks in the Spanish half, perhaps because the text itself is already so full of excitement – or so it appears to This American Dolt.

Why don’t I translate it for you here?

I seem to remember that in classical Latin you're supposed to start at the end and kind of work your way back to the beginning. Thus the last two words in the sign, “Cara Delantores,” must mean that this message is for some guy named Delaney.

Now let us move along with confidence, relaxing and translating freely. Because weren’t we all taught that all other languages are laughably easy compared with our own?

“A todos los miembros,” it begins, or, “To the membership of toads!”

“Favor de lavarse más manos.” Easy enough: “Do me a favor in the men’s bathroom!”

“Ante de volver a sus ocupaciones de trabajo.” “Before the guys who work at the Volvo dealership traipse in.”

With me so far?

“Especialmente después de haber ocupado el baño”: “Despite having used up all the Ban, even” (Ban signaling one of those figures of speech where the part is made to stand for the whole. Deodorants in general, see.)

“Las manos se deben de lavar en todo momento seas”: “The men owe themselves the debt of momentous seas!” (Right? Am I right?)

“Después de comer, haber masticado chicle, o después de fumar“: “Despite the fact that they have combed their hair and are having the mastication of Chiclets – and then, for emphasis, “O yes, despite those lovely Chiclets, yet they are furious" (which we get from “fumar” or, as we might say, “fuming.”)

“Al toser or estor nudar se bede de usar un pañuelo se recommendia también el lavado del manos continuamente”: “Al tosses things, see” (Al being a pal of Delaney’s no doubt.) “Consequently he will end up naked on his bed after using the tambourine under the panel in the lavatory of the continuous men (meaning the men NOT currently seeking sex-change operations.)

“Antes despuese de tocar todo lo dermas que pueda contaminar las mas también”: “Ants, after they smoke the skins, put contamination onto more tambourines.” (Those crazy ants, messing around with the percussion instruments!)

And the big finish? “Se deben lavas las manos ya sea después de habar Rosado su ropa , cuerpo, pelo.”

“So, Delaney, with your toady pals! Despite having those Rosary beads, you’d better keep your eyes peeled because - Crap! - The obligations of the men’s lavatories are yours!”

Terry Marotta, who will actually begin on some honest-to-goodness Spanish  lessons this week, welcomes your letters at tmarotta@concast.net and PO Box 270 Winchester, MA 01890.