Before I went on my study abroad trip in March of 2010, I decided to take a six week introductory Spanish course with my friend A. I wanted to learn the basics, such as “where is the bathroom?”, “how much does that cost?”, and “do those chickens bite?”. Our teacher instructed us to use the following phrase when we did not initially hear what she said – “¿Puede repetir eso, por favor?”. In other words, “Can you repeat that, please?”
Throughout my class and my study abroad trip that was the expression I used. Later on, I would discover I was being very formal and only foreigners used that expression. Once I moved to Mexico, I started to get lazy and I would say “Que?” or “What?”. The first time my boyfriend heard me say “Que“, he freaked out.
“Omg.! That’s so rude.! Don’t ever use that again,” he exclaimed.!
“So then what should I use?”, I queried, slightly taken aback at his intensity because he wasn’t normally intense.
“Mande”, was his reply. “Huh.?!”, was mine.
The word ‘mande‘, (pronounced MAHN-day), comes from the verb ‘mandar‘ which means to send or command. It is a contraction of ‘mandame’ which translates to order me or command me. The expression is a holdover from Spanish colonialism when Mexicans used the phrase in a submissive manner. Even today, the phrase is used in a respectful manner with parents, older relatives, and those who have a higher position than others.
However, it is also used when your are being polite and do not wish to sound rude. “Mande” is much more appropriate than “Que” or “¿Puede repetir eso, por favor?” It is similar to saying ‘pardon’ in English which is also much more polite than ‘what’ and much shorter than ‘can you say that again please’.
After this new tutorial, ‘mande‘ became my go to word.! Especially, since after my first year living in Mexico, I threw myself into learning Spanish more extensively. I was constantly asking people to repeat themselves.! Exhausting.! But worth the work.!
Then I met my friend C. You will remember C. as my lovely friend who was a professional dancer and most recently won the beauty pageant for Best Looking Grandmother in Quintana Roo.!! She is not only a very beautiful woman, but a brilliant one as well.
She untaught me the expression ‘mande‘ because to her it symbolized the very submission of the Mexican people to the Spaniards.! By continuing to use the phrase, she believed Mexicans were passively being submisive through language. Who knew? That was my first lesson that sometimes when you learn a language, it is not only knowing the word that is important. The history of the word is important. The connotation and the denotation of the word is extremely important. And the emotion behind the word is probably the most important.
C. taught me to use the expression, “Dime” or ‘tell me”. I now had a brand new expression to use, again. Funny enough, throughout my job at the hotel, I constantly heard the phrase ‘dime’ used among my peers and those with a little more education, or from the bigger cities such as D.F. So I began to feel more comfortable and felt like I was fitting in. I have to admit that when I started on this journey to Mexico, I never would have guessed how a small expression like ‘can you please repeat that’ would morph into my own awakening. A small linguistic quirk took me on a journey from foreigner to submissive neophyte to belonging 🙂