The Dakar Rally was on our radar screen for the following year, to tag along for a few days and then loop around South America. I’d advised my accountant, a wannabe motorcycle adventurer that was to go along, to take some time to learn a few Spanish words like si for yes and gracias for thank you. I also told him not to refer to his motorcycle as a bike, that the Spanish word was moto.
Instead, he remained his ignorant, arrogant self, saying, “Why? I’m the customer in their country. I’ve got money. If they want my business they should learn English.”
Ahhh, another “I Wish I Had A Swiss Or Canadian Passport If Traveling With Him” moment for Dr. G.
But my accountant had booked the hotel and was paying for upscale meals, not wanting to eat at my usual roadside eateries. Part of my role in his adventure was to serve as his wingman if he got himself into trouble, his having never been to South or Latin America before. Unsaid was my being
like Job as he put on his superior American fat cat airs.
Parking the motorcycles at the entrance to a Hilton in South America the big money accountant strutted to the reception counter where he took off his bug-splattered helmet and set it next to the sign-in pad and pen, while loudly proclaiming in English, “I’m here to check in. Two rooms.”
The concierge had approached the reception counter with two cold bottles of water on a tray. The accountant grabbed one, twisted off the plastic top and gulped down a couple of swallows while spilling some on the counter because he was struggling with his other hand to pull up his Depend underwear inside his loose motorcycle pants. He’d unbuckled the top after dismounting the motorcycle, saying he had to “give the monster some air.”
The receptionist, concierge and I all stepped away from the flying spittle and water droplets, afraid of more blowback. After his Miss Manners’ Do Not Do display of noisily gulping the water, he said to the receptionist, while pointing to the concierge, “Have this boy here go out and start bringing in the bags off our bikes.”
The concierge beckoned to the bellman over while the young and pretty receptionist asked, “What names, señor?”
My accountant lived to have people wait on him (his favorite movie was Pretty Woman; he viewed himself as the billionaire Edward played by Richard Gere), soinstead of answering her question he slapped his credit card down on the counter, pointed at his name so she would have to read it, and said, “You got Wi-Fi? If you don’t have working Wi-Fi I’m not staying here.”
I had seen his front desk game several times before, so backed several feet behind him while holding my helmet and trying to not grimace, but stayed close enough so I could overhear what was being said, to step in if needed to help with my limited Spanish.
The receptionist said, “May I have your passports?”
My accountant started unzipping pockets and pulling out plastic-wrapped packets that he spread out on the counter while I handed my passport over his shoulder to the smiling receptionist. After some searching he finally located his passport and slapped it down on the counter, closed and upside down so she would have to open it to read his name and numbers.
The receptionist said, “Thank you,” and began entering our names and numbers into the hotel computer.
While she was keying in our data my accountant slid his two smart phones across the counter and said, “Put in the username and passwords.”
“Just a minute please,” the receptionist said, and added, “I’ll be done here first, then can assign the username to your room number.”
When finished entering our data, she asked, “Do you want a complimentary key card for our business center?”
“Okey-dokey,” answered the accountant, and then added, “Why aren’t these boys getting our bags?”
The receptionist looked at the concierge and said to him in Spanish, “What is he saying?”
The concierge looked at my fellow traveler and said in excellent English, “Sir, she wishes to know if you would like a key card to access our 24-hour business center?”
The accountant said, with a lost look on his face, “I already told her that. What doesn’t she understand?”
At this point I stepped forward and said in my broken Spanish to the receptionist, “Si, uno key card por favor.”
She quickly cut him a key card, handed our passports back and said to the bellman, “See to the bags, please.”
The concierge asked my accountant in English, “Would you like me to see that your helmet goes with the baggage to your room?”
“Yeppers,” replied the accountant in his best American farm boy lingo, to which the concierge turned to me and politely asked, “What does he mean, please?”
I replied, “He means si, gracias.”
As we locked the motorcycles and covered them near the foyer, the bellman and concierge were whispering back and forth. I understood about half of what they were saying but pretended not to hear anything.
During dinner in the hotel restaurant my accountant asked, “What were those two dagos talking about when they loaded the luggage cart, what they could steal off our motorcycles or maybe our riding gear?”
I should have told him what they really said, “The bellman called you a pendejo, but the concierge said ‘No, he’s a gringo puta.’” Instead I replied, “Oh, they were talking about how nice it was to have two gringo tourists staying in their nice hotel.”
My accountant thought about that for a few seconds, and then said, “You know, if these people are going to cater to us American tourists the hotel should have a rule about them not speaking Spanish when around us so we know what the hell they are talking about.”
I gave his suggestion a second or two of wonderment, before saying, “Si, maybe you should post that idea to your Facebook and the State Department in reply to all the alerts and warnings you subscribe to from them every night, show them you’ve got a good handle on how to straighten up what you see as loco, how a good English speaking democracy can work.
This story originally appeared in our December 2017 issue, which you can read in all its original high-res glory here.