LAPT Panama: English only please?
The dinner break was almost finished when I left my hotel room and stood in front of the 13th floor elevator. A tall blonde woman looked at me and rattled off a series of Spanish phrases so fast that I was worried she might have dislocated her ample lips. I smiled and nodded, afraid anything else might be interpreted as an offense--or perhaps worse in this venue, consent.
Though I understood not a word she said, I picked up enough contextual clues to translate the following: "I've been waiting for this elevator for a long time and I'm not sure if it's ever coming." I might have also read her for "It would be nice to have some company. Do you like Van Halen?"
But the elevators doors opened. There wasn't room for the both of us. Better put, there wasn't room for both of us in a way that my wife would find appropriate. What's more, after initially stepping into the elevator, I realized I was going to have a claustrophobia problem if I stayed. So, I motioned that she go ahead, and she read me for, "Go ahead." I'm good at this stuff.
It's all about context. Thirteen years of pet companionship, 12 years of marriage, and eight years of parenting have taught me one thing: you don't need a common language to understand each other. In fact, it's often true that language gets in the way.
I knew the elevator wasn't coming back soon, if ever, and I was about to be late for the restart of play. I bolted for the staircase. It was only five flights down, and I needed the modicum of exercise. I watched the door signs as I descended
I climbed back up to eight, back down to six, and then halfway back up to an unmarked, open door that led into a kitchen. A pony-tailed waitress eyed me suspiciously. I ran away. But then I ran back. She was gone, and I ducked into the kitchen. Why? Because I was lost in Panama. In a hotel. In a kitchen.
But I heard poker chips.
Yessir, that sound is a universal language. I've heard it in more than a dozen countries around the globe. If you're lost in the woods, you listen for water. If you're lost at a poker tournament, listen to the sound of riffling poker chips.
Five seconds later, like a wailing baby from a kitchen-y womb, I emerged--barely late and only halfway crying--into the second half this tournament day.
Though it was a victory, it underscored an embarrassing fact about my long career on the Latin American Poker Tour: I don't speak the Spanish. Oh, I can get by. I know some key words (pollo, mesa, fiches, cerveza...), but my chances of accomplishing anything more than counting to ten or ordering dinner are about as good as my chances of winning one of these events (and if my experience with the Superpancho is any indication, I'm not too good at the dinner thing either).
I'm not the only one. Player Bryan Shay tweeted earlier, "Issue at my table. Floor is here and everyone is arguing but I have no idea whats goin on cuz its all in spanish."
This shame has many sides. First, I actually ordered Rosetta Stone for Latin America many years ago. The problem was that I bought it for a PC, and I became a Mac guy not long afterward. The Rosetta Stone became a very expensive paperweight. Further, I started using my Spanish-speaking friends (some would say "enablers") as crutches. While I wallowed in my English addiction, they propped me up, ordered my dinners, and translated interviews for me.
Worst of all, though, is how nice everyone in Latin America is to me even though I can't speak their language. It's shameful to me. Go to America, and you won't find this kind of tolerance for language ignorance. Go to France and...well, you know. But here? They just smile nicely, call me Mr. Brad, and make sure I get what I need.
And so I have shame. When I go to a Mexican restaurant at home, my kid converses better with the waiters than I do. When I come to Latin America, my attempts at speaking the language have as much chance at landing me in jail as they do hitting their mark.
But enough about that. The chip leader here is up to 100,000. Or a hundred million. Hold on, I'm going to have to get this translated. Back in a bit.
(And yeah, somebody else wrote this part below.)
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Brad Willis is the PokerStars Head of Blogging