I am proud of my vocabulary, and I love working with words. But I don’t speak plumbing, flooring, electricity or anything else related to home repairs or construction. I don’t speak these languages in English or Spanish.
So when I reluctantly had to go to buy a part for our kitchen faucet at the plumbing store, I brought an interpreter along. Luis speaks the language, both plumbing and Spanish, so he can talk to the clerks in the stores in terms they can understand.
All over the world I have found that men who work in hardware stores (I haven’t found any women working in these stores) are contemptuous of those who don’t speak their language. They have little patience for those who stumblingly ask for the little doohickey that fits in the thing-a –ma-bob. They only want to deal with those who speak their language. In fact, this ignorance of the vocabulary of plumbing is extremely irritating to them They look at you with astonishment that you are so stupid that you don’t even know the name of the part you are seeking.
This feeling of rejection has been with me for a long time. I remember when I lived in
Bolivia; I had to go to the store to buy some paint thinner. In great fear of their sneering at me, and classifying me to be the village idiot, I looked up what I considered to be the correct word in the Spanish dictionary, practiced it so that I might be understood, and then went to the store. When I asked for the product, I got puzzled looks. I then haltingly tried to explain what I wanted and the clerk looked at me with disdain and said (in Spanish) “Oh, you want thinner.” The word they used was exactly the same as in English only they pronounced it a little different.
I have found that not only do these hardware salespeople have an attitude, but often there is a group of men, hardware store groupies, usually with hefty bellies, who listen to your attempts to describe your needs with great amusement. For them, the best entertainment of the day is when some ignoramus comes in and struggles to describe the needed part.
So I was glad to have Luis along because he knew what to ask for, and how to deal with the contemptuous clerks. They met their match as he knew exactly what he wanted and was determined to get it. The men with the bellies kept looking at me with disappointment because I was depriving them of their daily laugh.
In our journey in search of parts, I discovered that there is a section of Lima, Avenida Marsano, where there are lots of little shops specializing in one aspect of home repair and construction or another. For example we found small stores with plumbing supplies,
Electrical parts, flooring, paint and so on.
This is an incredibly dynamic area. People are scurrying around looking for the right part or piece of equipment. They all look like they know what they are doing. It must be because they know what I do not— the secret language of plumbing.