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Lost in translation: A sweet story from my first year of motherhood

Bombon Cake Gallery in Pilsen makes the most extraordinary cakes — delicate, melt-in-your-mouth tres leches, cinnamon-spiked chocolate mousse, perfectly spiced carrot cake studded with sweet pineapple, to name a few. I’m very particular about my desserts even when I’m not overtaken by pregnancy hormones, so I told my sister she could plan every detail of my baby shower except for the cake.

A week before the event, I called the bakery to place my order. The man answered “Galeria del Pastel,” and I said, “Hello, I’d like to place a cake order.” He said something in Spanish. I apologized that I didn’t speak Spanish. This is embarrassing, but I really can’t speak Spanish. Most people in my situation would know enough to eke out “no habla espaƱol,” but I literally said, in English, “I’m sorry, I don’t speak Spanish.” He said something else in Spanish. Not wishing to be rude, I told him “I’ll call back later,” and hung up. No big deal, I thought. I’d been to the bakery a few times before and knew that they could accommodate English-speaking customers.

A couple of hours later, I called back. The same man answered. “Hi, I’d like to place an order for a cake,” I said. Something in Spanish again. This time I remembered: “No habla espaƱol.” What was going through my mind was this: “I can’t speak Spanish, but I really want to order a delicious cake for my bambina‘s party. Oh wait, that’s Italian.” Once again, I told him “I’ll call back later,” and made a note that I’d make my daughter learn Spanish since it’s the second-most spoken language in the US, and so she can someday order a cake for her baby shower without feeling like a complete idiot.

The same man picked up the third time. I racked my brain. Should I hang up, swallow my pride, and call one of my Spanish-speaking friends to place the order for me? Quickly type something into Google translate and try to read it? All I could come up with was, “Uhh…”

He recognized my voice and said “Wait a minute.” I heard him call to someone in the background and after a while somebody picked up the phone. “Can I help you?” It was a little boy, I’m guessing no older than 8 or 9, a native speaker of English. I breathed a sigh of relief. “Yes, I’d like to order a cake.” “Ok,” he said, “Hang on.” He asked the man something in Spanish, the man answered, and then the boy asked me, “What kind of cake?” This three-way conversation continued, the man in Spanish, the little boy translating, I replying in English, the boy writing down my answers while I visualized his uneven, bubbly penmanship scratching over the paper. I’m a child of immigrants myself, and admired the way this bilingual boy easily switched between two languages, not just taking a cake order but navigating his way across two cultures, something I struggled with and celebrated growing up and my Asian/white daughter will likely experience as well.

The boy asked for the final detail. “Is this for a birthday party, or…?” “It’s for my baby shower,” I explained. “Baby shower,” he repeated as he took it down.

The morning of my baby shower, I raced over to the bakery to pick up the beautiful cake I would share with my family and closest friends to celebrate the greatest joy of my life:

3 Comments

  1. joan wrote:

    hahaha aweswome!! that was one of the yummiest cakes i’ve eaten :)
    did you hear cathy t’s cake story? she ordered a cake for john online (but not from the same bakery):

    “Happy Birthday John” Thanks!

    and when the beautiful cake arrived, it said: “Happy Birthday John, Thanks!” :)

    Tuesday, March 1, 2011 at 5:50 pm | Permalink
  2. Hilarious! :D

    Tuesday, March 1, 2011 at 7:55 pm | Permalink
  3. Cathy wrote:

    Yeah I was sort of worried about your bambina’s party cake till I saw the picture… phheeeeewwww
    Muy bonita!

    Tuesday, March 1, 2011 at 9:55 pm | Permalink

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