Re: The BBC's Spanish Proposition

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As we reported last week, two correspondents from BBC Mundo are currently making their way across Texas and speaking only Spanish. Or so we thought.

When I arrived at the Doneraki Mexican restaurant at Gulfgate Mall on Friday afternoon to meet the guys, they immediately started speaking English. “¡No, no! ¡En español, por favor!” I said. “Es tu trabajo.”

They agreed that it was, indeed, an essential feature of their project to only speak Spanish (as you can see on their Web site.)

So, I peppered them with questions as they prepared for a meeting with local bilingual Latinos. The video producer, Carlos Ceresole, explained that the first half of the trip was a pleasant surprise. Almost everyone, he said, was willing to bend over backward to help the guys in Spanish. When they lost some luggage in Jacksonville, the attendant found a Costa Rican janitor to translate. When they encountered an English-only waitress at a truck stop, she explained that she really, really wanted to learn Spanish.

How did the BBC guys understand waitress’s statements? Both journalists speak perfect English. Carlos explained that that’s the one painful aspect of the trip—knowing that he could easily break into English when a difficult situation arises.

Maybe that’s why, by the time they arrived in Houston, they were willing to compromise a little. Houston had also been the site of their first “disagreeable” experience. Houstonians, it seems, aren’t as patient with Spanish speakers as people in cosmopolitan places like Mobile or Tallahassee.

As noted on their blog, the employees of their hotel on Westheimer refused to help them find the hotel on the phone. When they finally found the hotel — “gracias a Mapquest,” said Carlos — the staff was still rude. The reporter, José Baig, asked for an extra key and the front desk employee threw it on the floor.

All in all, the team seemed ready to get back on the road and out of Houston. “The traffic here is worse than Miami,” they said. -- Russell Cobb

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