Communication breakdown

As an intern in the cellar of a Napa winery, most of my colleagues are Mexican.

My Spanish is terrible, but most of my coworkers have solid English skills. However, this doesn’t mean that communication between my self and other cellar mates is perfect. In fact, there have been a few communication breakdowns.

Some of the most frequent involve numbers. I remember a guy asked me to set up a transfer hose to tank 16.

“I thought it was tank 15,” I said.

“Si, tank ss-feeeff-ten,” he said.

“What?,” I said, “You mean one-five or one-six?”

“One-six,” he said solving the breakdown.

One of my favorites occurred when I tried to help set up a barrel filling job. My boss Emilio pointed to some hoses and in his thick accent indicated he wanted me to go and grab some more hoses. I ran to the hose rack and hauled over two more one inch hoses.

When I was done, Emilio looked at me, and then looked at the hoses.

“Andrew,” he said, a quizzical look on his face, “where did you get these hoses?”

“Where did I get the hoses,” I say to myself, thinking of making a smart-ass reply like:”Oh these, I brought these from home.”

Instead, I say I got them from the hose rack.

“The what buddy?,” he asks, looking as confused as me.

Eventually, I’m able to describe what the hose rack is and I figure out he’s asking me where I got the hoses to see if they had been sanitized or not. It turns out there was a pair of sanitized hoses Emilio wanted.

The problems go both way too. Sometimes my colleagues won’t have a clue what I’m talking about.

When I was using a power washer, another coworker, Luciano, stopped to explain that the high pressure of the hose can actually cut through plastic.

“Oh so the water can actually sever the hose line,” I said.

“No, not sever, cut the line,” he said.

Really though, I sometimes feel bad that I can’t quickly understand my coworkers as possible. And I now wish I spent my high school and college years learning Spanish instead of French. (This has resulted in a few odd situations in which I’ve actually had to translate for the French intern what our Mexican boss wants us to do.)

What I have been impressed with however, is the infinite patience my Mexican coworkers have for someone who doesn’t speak their language and didn’t have a clue about cellar work when I started. I’ve learned a great deal and it’s because they’ve been willing to teach me.

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