“So you went to high school in Colombia?” I asked, looking down at her resume.
“That is correct. Moreover, I took my bachelor degree in Colombia.”
Her accent was thick, but she spoke at a measured tempo, articulating her words precisely. Moreover, she was clearly very intelligent. She dressed smartly. Her entire presence oozed quiet confidence and class. Every word was carefully chosen, as if from a postgraduate Spanish/English thesaurus.
“Master’s degree in education from the University of Oklahoma?” I said, reading her resume. It wasn’t really a question.
“Yes. I have worked as a teacher for the past two years.”
“Which subjects did you teach?” was the natural follow-up.
I started this job, my first in management, just eight months earlier. A former boss called me up, asked if I was interested in a management position. I was working freelance. And, just barely working. We had one month left in savings. The call was a lifeline. I almost accepted right on the phone.
“Jake, I have a job opportunity that I would like to talk to you ab-“
“I WILL TAKE IT!”
We met in person, he outlined the responsibilities of the position. I sat across from him, stone-faced, when he told me about the compensation. My insides were leaping with joy. I barely managed to maintain a calm outward appearance. My financial stresses were about to leak away like oil from the undercarriage of an AMC Gremlin.
“The sales staff that you will be supervising is bilingual. They all speak Spanish; and, the products that you will be in charge of are 100% geared toward the Hispanic consumer.”
I didn’t hear him at first. I was still rolling that salary number around in my head.
“Hispanic consumer? I don’t really speak any Spanish. I mean, I took a couple of years in high school: baño, cerveza, donde-esta-la-biblioteca.” I felt that salary slowly rolling out of my reach. Surely he knows that I don’t speak Spanish.
“It’s okay. You don’t need to know the language or culture. You know the business and you know how to sell.”
The salary number rolled back within reach. But still, this whole Hispanic thing seemed, well, kind of foreign.
“Why are you considering a career change from being a teacher?” I asked the Columbiana.
“I require more challenges. I would like the opportunity to better my family financially.”
Bingo! Right answer. Great outside salespeople are typically financially motivated. Overcoming the constant rejection that comes with selling requires powerful motivators.
“What kind of income are you looking for?” I got right to the point.
She gave me her number.
“If you work hard, you can earn that.”
Money was what kept me in that new managerial job for the first few months. I found myself in charge of a staff of seven. Three had been internal candidates for my job. Indeed, all spoke Spanish, often, around me. I didn’t need to understand the words in order to recognize the tone of resentment that floated through the office. How am I going to lead a group of people that resented my very existence?
I met with an old friend that worked in the same company, but a different department.
“They are pissed off that you don’t speak Spanish,” he told me. I already knew.
“I guess that I kind of understand it.” Putting myself in their shoes, I would probably feel resentful. “Maybe I should try to learn a little Spanish.”
After eight months of dedicated study, my Spanish skills were developing rapidly. I could have common conversations and my pronunciation was excellent. Most importantly, the staff warmed to me as I slowly earned their respect.
As the interview wrapped up, I realized that I needed to load a box of paperwork into my car, that was parked outside. It was a great opportunity to practice my Spanish with a bonafide, masters-degree-toting, teacher of the Castillian language. As we were rising from our chairs, I attempted to tell her that I was going to accompany her outside in order to load something up into my car.
“Voy a acompañarte afuera para cager algo en mi coche.” I said in practiced manner.
Her eyes got very big. “¿Que dijo?”
“What?” I said, not understanding her Spanish
“What did you say?” she asked.
“Sorry. My Spanish isn’t that good. Let me try it again. Voy a acompañarte afuera para cagar al-“
She cut me off, “what are you trying to say? In English, please.”
“I am going to accompany you outside in order to load something into my truck.” I explained.
“That is not what you said.” Her voice was a little strained. She continued, “the word that means load is cargar, CAR-GAR,” she said very slowly, emphasizing the middle R sound.
“Isn’t that what I said?” I couldn’t hear the difference.
“No. You said cagar, CA-GAR,” she spoke slowly, emphasizing the lack of a middle R.
I heard it. “Oh. Okay. I hear the difference. So what does cagar mean?”
She looked directly in my eye and said, in her elegant measured tone, “It means to shit.”
I hired her the next day.
This is a work of fiction, that is inspired by an actual event.