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Theme park cast member stories: Hablamos Español... Sorta

Written by
Published: August 24, 2009 at 9:10 AM

Laurie and I went out for dinner in Austin, Texas a couple weeks ago with a mutual friends from college, who'd married a lawyer from Argentina. They're fluent in Spanish, so Laurie was practicing her Español, as she likes to do with native and fluent speakers.

Our friend asked if I knew Spanish, too, and I replied that I know a few phrases.

Laurie rolled her eyes. "Go ahead," she said. So I rattled off my best Spanish, as our friend arched her eyebrow higher with each phrase:

"Cuatro personas por fila, por favor"*

"No más de veinticuatro personas por barco"**

"Permanezcan sentados, por favor"***

"Mantenga las manos y los brazos dentro del barco"****

"No tomar fotografías con flash"*****

I could tell she was struggling to find some context for these seemingly random phrases, but her blank stare turned to understanding once Laurie explained....

"He learned to speak Spanish working at Pirates of the Caribbean."

---

*Four people per row, please

**No more than 24 people per boat

***Remain seated, please

****Keep your hands and arms inside the boat

*****No flash photography

Readers' Opinions

From Anthony Murphy on August 24, 2009 at 9:28 AM
Please Stand Clear of the Doors!
Por favor, mantenganse allejado de las puertas!
From Todd Houts on August 24, 2009 at 9:59 AM
Delightful story, Robert. Reminds me of what little French I recall from high school. (Even more random than you.) The two I can still rattle off (but not necessarily spell in French so I won't try): "May I sharpen my pencil." & "Pull the drapes please, I can't see the blackboard." (Yes, the room actually had drapes and if you were on the opposite side of the room at the correct angle, the blackboard [actually green board] just disappeared into a sea of white.)
From Diane Graebner on August 24, 2009 at 10:30 AM
I used to be able to say "Get down off of the rocks" in at least 20 different languages after nearly five years at Honey I Shrunk the Kids playground!

I have a great language story that's not theme park related though. I spent a year traveling with a musical show, and we ended our tour for the holidays in Europe. I could either fly home to the US and back to Denmark to rejoin the cast, or could wander around Europe on my own. I was invited by a friend from the show to stay with his family in Poland and I accepted. The father decided to teach me some Polish. He spoke no English himself, but he taught me a few words. Since it was the holidays, he decided to go visit some of his school friends and he took his visiting American with him to show off. (This was right after the fall of Communism in Poland, and anything American had been once forbidden and was now exciting. "Gone With the Wind," was the big event on TV while I was there for example.)

Every home we visited was the same. "Father," would introduce me in Polish, then would begin to speak with his friends about old times. I could tell when they were talking about me because the conversation was always the same. Then, as the two would be discussing who I was and why I was visiting, "Father" would indicate that I spoke Polish. He'd nod to me and point.

He'd point to the light over the table.

"Lampa," I'd recite dutifully.

He'd nod, then point at the table.

"Tabela."

He'd nod, then point at a chair.

"Krzesło."

He'd then get a wicked grin on his face and gesture dramatically at me.

"Podaj mi krzesło." I'd state with authority.

He'd then get up and with great flourish, hand me his chair over the table, the old friends laughing uproariously over the silly American asking someone to "Give me the chair!"

The old friends would then go on to discuss how I didn't drink enough (raise a glass to me) and didn't eat enough (pat their bellies and nod over to me with a disapproving look while pushing another plate of cakes in my direction). That visit over, we'd go on to the next house to do the same again.

It was a wonderful way to really meet the Polish people. To this day, when meeting someone who speaks Polish, I tell them to "Podaj mi krzesło" explaining why I know that phrase. We laugh at the silly things we Americans say and do!

From Joshua Counsil on August 24, 2009 at 12:28 PM
How 'bout "don't drink the water"?
From Gareth H on August 24, 2009 at 2:17 PM
lol @ Anthony. I took a trip around Disney the other day and repeatedly heard that phrase on the Monorail too.

The guy sounds so enthusiastic saying it!!

From David Graham on August 24, 2009 at 3:41 PM
Anthony beat me to it LOL but I got one up on him here, Cafe Press has a shirt you can buy with the saying on it and a monorial sign:

http://www.zazzle.com/monorail_doors_spanish_tshirt-235786067197569949

From Anthony Murphy on August 24, 2009 at 4:03 PM
Disney sells it too!

Even they get the joke.......

From 71.80.183.226 on August 26, 2009 at 5:21 PM
I really enjoy practicing my German with the German pavilion CMs at Epcot's World Showcase. I only studied the language for two semesters in college, picked up some from my grandfather and some other informal means (including a friend's foul-mouthed exchange student) and have only been to Germany once, so I enjoy the chance to practice what little German I do know. Now in most other places, if you speak in a foreign language to a native speaker they'll assume you're fluent and will go off light-speed in full conversation. At Epcot, the CMs so far have always realized my German, while pretty good, is very limited in scope. They'll engage in very simple, clear conversation, speak more complex sentences in English, and will generally make you feel like a champ. Hats off to them. I'm not sure if Disney teaches this courtesy, but I just love being able to engage the CMs in a foreign language without getting in over my head. I did have this backfire a bit when a German CM started flirting (with a very not-subtle wink too) when I started speaking in German, with my wife right by my side, but other than that they've been great. (And to be honest, I didn't really mind the flirting. She was fairly attractive...)

On a side note, I studied Spanish for three years in high school, and Disneyland safety spiels still trump that as my second best source of my grasp of Spanish, right behind actually going to Mexico.

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