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Friday, May 25, 2012

'Para servirle'

I speak Spanish to God, Italian to women, French to men, and German to my horse.—Emperor Charles V

The role of language in our thinking and actions has been brought to my attention recently during our walk on the Camino de Santiago.

Women and men from all across the globe, walking the 800 kilometer distance of the original Camino Frances, or a shorter version, 110 kilometers, such as for our group, pause as they pass one another to say "Buen Camino" in Spanish, to recognize our common humanity as we walk on country paths walked by pilgrims for 900 years.

As we approach the end of the road, bicyclists speed past, calling out, "Buen Camino," sometimes to greet you, and other times to warn you they are approaching from the rear at a fast clip, so 'Move over, Pilgrim', is the subtext.

My sister, Elda, is a wonderful born-journalist. She approaches people and wrangles information and photos from farmers, gardeners and people who are up to their elbows in daily chores. They are happy to stop to chat and be photographed by the charmer that is my sister. She asks each their name, and repeats it to them as she records it mentally for her daily journal.

The last woman who stopped to chat along the Camino with us was a fit and fast-moving woman who works as a sort of parks guide for the city of Lavacollas, who told us she had moved here from Mexico City, "el D-F" in the early 1980's. I can't remember her name, though my sister might.

What struck me was her sweet and very Mexican way of introducing herself by saying her first and last name, followed by the phrase "para servile" (to serve you, at your orders).

None of the hundred or so people we had met and exchanged names with during the previous 8-10 days, from countries such as Spain, South Korea, Ireland, England, Canada, Germany, France, or Austria had used a similar term such as 'para servirle' or similar terms that translate to 'at you service' or 'at your orders' when introducing themselves.

What does 'para servirle' mean in the year 2012? This falls under the category of the many mysterious ways Spanish-speaking people like Spaniards and Mexicans are alike and different.

I first noticed this on my first trip in the early 1990's, with my Mom and a tour group of Mexican Americans and Mexicans, who spoke often about the things we noticed such as lower voice tone and directness found in Spain in contrast to what at least I perceive as the more sonorous and courteous Spanish of Mexico.

What this might mean is that the woman from Mexico living in Lavacollas, Galicia, in Spain, might miss her native home and might have seen a chance to share a special bit of herself with us by using the term "para servirle." Or, that may be how she introduces herself this way out of habit, even after living here more than 20 years. Or it might mean that language illustrates the way power is impervious to the passing of time. The colonizer's dominion over the colonized might be long ago extinguished, as has Spain's influence over Mexico, except for the way 'good manners' are taught and in the way we are sometimes taught to speak, that centuries-old dominion and power live on.

After reading this post, my dear friend, Pilar Malo de Wellbaum, who I met while she taught at the San Antonio branch of the University of Mexico (UNAM) wrote me a brief note that both My sister and I said taught us something new. The terms 'a sus ordenes' or 'para servirle' take on a whole new meaning when you learn the entire phrase. Thank you, Pili. Here is Pili's note:

Thank you, Linda. If you pass by Llanes (Asturias) I have relatives there: Last name Carus (my mothers name. I was Pilar Malo Carus... A sus ordenes, or Para servirle (a Dios y a Usted).
Love your postings.

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