Depending on when you catch me, what shape I'm in and what I'm wearing my features have been likened to those of everyone from Kool Moe Dee to Darius Rucker (Hootie), Sam Cooke and a few others. While traveling in the Tampa Bay area, though, that was probably the first time in my life that someone actually thought I was from another country!
Growing up in Germany gave my sisters and I an advantage when it came to foreign languages and accents. We heard German everyday as spoken by German people and so were able to adapt the local accent as we picked up the language. Back in the United States when it came time for high school Spanish I was blessed with an American teacher who also had an ear for accents and was able to impart that extra flavoring in the lessons. In short, when I hear a language, dialect or even accented English I try to pick it up as a means of being understood as well as finding common ground with the other person.
Fast forward to Tampa and an evening out with friends from high school who now live in that part of the country. Being from Central America their accent is different from that of other Spanish-speaking parts of the world or so they tell me. I can pick out English accents from all over the world but still have a hard time with Spanish ones outside of how quickly it is spoken or whether or not some of the consonants are softer. Yes, those all add up to the "accent" except I haven't been able to identify the location of that difference like I can between Boston and Charlotte!
Anyway, we decide to go out clubbing for the evening and end up at a local watering hole in south St. Petersburg. A mixed entertainment place they have a performance stage, a dance floor, a pool area and a few bars and tables so it's a catch-all for that part of town, reaching out to as wide a clientele as possible.
By the end of the evening we had received the attention of a few lookers who weren't quite sure what to make of us but they were curious just the same. The bravest of the bunch strikes up an interesting conversation and before it is all said and done he decides to nickname me "El Chivo del Santo Domingo," the big goat from the Dominican Republic! Big goat?!
We're all having a good time and laughing but hasty explanations inform me that "goat" is to Spanish culture what "dog" is to Americans in that setting. It was a compliment to be called, in translation, "top dawg," the man in charge, the big kahuna, the cheese! Lesson laughingly learned.
I was still a bit curious about where the Santo Domingo angle came from, however. Our new friend who himself was from Argentina explained that when I spoke to him in Spanish my rapid fire pronunciation was right out of the Dominican Republic. That about put the icing on the cake for me because I've never been there!