At about 10 am each morning, when my sugar level begins to dip and my spirits flag, the scent of vanilla from the adjoining cookie factory wafts through my office and everything is once again OK. I thank the good Lord each and every day the Company had the foresight to build their plant next to the Gamesa cookie factory—one of the largest cookie factories in all of Mexico. When I feel overwhelmed by work and stressed out by draconian deadlines, I will sometimes fantasize I am heading up International Investigations at the cookie factory, pursuing those who would pilfer sweets from the assembly floor, who would collude in product substitution—shorting the vanilla levels and disappointing all the kids and grownups like me with a sweet tooth. Happiness is indeed the unadulterated whiff of vanilla.
There is nothing pretty about where I work…I am smack square in the middle of Industrial Vallejo. Think of any industrial zone in the United States– then think ten times worst and that’s where you can find me. My office has been strategically placed away from the company’s Main Complex—to ensure privacy and anonymity I’ve told. But I’m pretty sure I scare people…one of the fellows in Communications announced to everyone (it seemed like everyone at the time) in the employee lunchroom, “Here comes the police!” That got a good laugh from everyone…except me. And one of my German colleagues jokingly called me a spy in front of a group of fellow Compliance officers. I thought I muttered something untoward under my breath.
I’m not overly concerned about my reputation because where I work, I have ‘rock star’ status. That’s right, I am extremely popular with the cleaners, the guards, the maintenance people, and just about everyone in the warehouse. Maybe because I have doled out dozens of packets of Gamesa cookies to the staff and am on a first name basis with all of them….I even get a kiss on the cheek every day from one of the elderly cleaning ladies (don’t worry, it’s a culture thing). The adulation can be overwhelming and, at times, I seem to float across the courtyard, under the towering cranes and the heavy machinery, the sparks flying at me from all angles…although I have yet to be injured. Past the metal shop, transformers, the repair facility for wind turbines and soon I am stepping over the railroad tracks curving away to nowhere within the industrial zone and into the Main Complex. Orange overalls and jump suits give way to suit jackets, ties and skirts. I wave farewell to the guardian of the portal–the young security guard who points his finger at me in a friendly firearms gesture.
I am reluctant to leave my ‘bubble’ and venture forth to the other side of the tracks—to those we call middle management and executives. Yet it can be exciting to say hello in several languages—there´s that nice French manager Patrice—“Bon Jour!” And then I pass Martin, that handsome young German man with the blue eyes, “Guten Tag…vie gadees eneen?” Martin smiles and answers me in fluent English. Then right into Español with Efrain, “Buenos Dias”…I’m on a roll! Oh, and there is that fun Brazilian guy, “Buon ghia Robson.” I never knew speaking a foreign language (or two) could be so much fun and I plan to include that as feedback in my Job Performance evaluation. Nobody does it better than me— a polyglot when it comes to saying ‘good morning’ in several languages!
I have always believed you´re not really learning a foreign language until you’ve had your car repaired in a foreign country or have endured a thorough physical check up on foreign soil. And that is exactly how I spent this past Friday in one of the premiere hospitals in the capital—as a manager I am entitled to an annual physical. Although this amazing health facility was three bus connections from my neighborhood, it was not hard to see it is one of the top three medical institutions in the country. It is modern, clean and employs a dedicated and professional staff.
Sometimes it´s difficult enough enduring a battery of medical exams in one´s own country, in one´s own language. But imagine, spending an hour filling out forms in a foreign tongue, being escorted ten different times to this office and that and having to explain to each of the doctors in a foreign language your family history, your general health and the aches and pains you feel or imagine. I had a good laugh with one of the doctors, pointing to my heart and saying it hurt here—I was trying to say I was home sick. But seriously, it was like taking a crash course in medical terminology and although I was initially reluctant to listen to and use strange, new words, my prickly attitude soon dissolved and I began having fun. I spent a good half hour with the nutritionist as she dumped a bucket of plastic foods on the table and together we began placing the ersatz meal into groups while planning my new diet. I repeated the names of the plastic foods, some of which looked extremely unappetizing and more closely resembled Halloween props. But I did recognize and correctly say the word “tortilla.”
I learned Spanish terms related to ophthalmology, hematology, dentistry, audiotology (is there such a word?), internal medicine (some of these terms I would rather forget). Halfway through the ordeal, they served a delicious meal and I got to meet managers from other companies throughout the megacity. Some had just finished with their enemas and seemed reluctant to talk with me. Not everything was that great…one of the female doctoras…an older woman with a poker face was in charge of my skeletal evaluation. I have never seen a person look more frustrated when she evaluated my skeleton (and flexibility). I mustered up enough courage to ask her just how flexible I was. “You are not flexible at all,” was her curt reply. “I recommend yoga and pay attention to the palms of your hands…they are extremely hard…right now it is not significant but later it could lead to health problems.” “OK,” I said, not understanding what hard palms have to do with anything.
And then there was the stress test, where they attached all those cables and electrodes (manufactured by my company) to my middle age body and had me run near vertical on a treadmill. Sweating bullets, I used the expression for the first time in Spanish—“Me rindo”—but the stone faced doctor said no…a few more minutes. ¡Caramba!
So remember, you don´t have it so bad…not as bad as me as I found myself arguing with a stubborn receptionist who tells me I have two last names–my first last name is Richard and my second last name is Strange.
“No señorita, Richard is my middle name and my only surname is Strange.”
After five minutes of back and forth, I use the term in Spanish– I surrender—a second time and allow her to use Richard on the form as my first last name….well, you get the rest.
Mexico City, Distrito Federal 2010