Tuesday, April 9, 2013

The Pantomime

"Buenos dias!”

“Hello. I’m Doctor Oppenheim,”

I entered the room and listened as she explained her problem in Spanish. Most Latin Americans speak enough English to get along; in any case they travel in groups, and there’s usually someone to interpret.

“It sounds like you have a cough. What are your other symptoms?....”

She waved her hand to indicate noncomprehension and continued her recital. She was elderly and alone, a bad sign. Most people hate to stumble along in a foreign language. If I’m patient they often reveal some facility, but this lady stuck to Spanish, performing the usual pantomime, pointing to her throat and head, waving a bottle of medication under my nose.

“How many days have you been sick….?”

Another wave. What to do…. I could call her travel insurer, but interpreting over the phone is tedious. I could phone the front desk. The clerk would cheerfully agree to send up a Spanish-speaking employee, but he or she might not appear for fifteen minutes or half an hour if at all. I looked out the door, hoping to spy a housekeeper but no luck.

My spirits rose when a middle-aged lady arrived, but she merely joined the pantomime, tapping various parts of her companion’s body. Finally, an adolescent girl appeared. She had undoubtedly paid little attention during English class but had no objection to trying her hand. Her English was terrible but good enough for my purposes, and everything worked out. 

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