“Hello, this is L speaking,” I greeted the other person on the line.
“Oh hi, Mrs. C. I’m calling from Johnston Heights Secondary. Your son Mickey is here at the office. He has stomach ache and would like to go home. He doesn’t have the keys to your house but we have called Gino down. Is it okay for him to go home?” the lady politely informed me.
Concerned, I asked, “May I speak with him, please?” I wanted to make sure it wasn’t anything serious nor flimsy.
“Sure, please hold on.” She called out to Mickey and instructed him to pick up the other phone.
“What happened?” I asked.
“Uhmm, magtatagalog ako,” he started to speak slowly and deliberately, carefully choosing each word. “Uhmm, gusto koh nah mah-ehbahk…”
I restrained a snicker. Coming from my Canadianized 17-year old son who never speaks to me in Tagalog, that slang term sounded, well, foreign. This is the second time in a week that he had tummy ache and had to sign out from school, so I began to probe. But, like him, I wanted to avoid saying diarrhea within my officemates’ earshot, so I spoke in the vernacular as well.
“Ano yan, paulit-ulit? Bumabalik-balik?”
Mickey didn’t quite get it.
“Ano, ah, gusto mo mag-u-u, minsan lang o balik-balik?” I was beginning to sound funny to myself. “Kung minsan lang baka naman pwede dyan na lang sa school.”
Just then I realized there was a new Filipina employee being toured in our department and standing a few feet behind me. Mick refused to use the school washroom.
“Ano, babalik ka sa school?”
“Ahmmm..” he was running out of words and in a hurry to go. “I’ll see if I can come back. Or I’ll just go to the clinic because my ear hurts.”
With that I let him go wondering if our conversation would have been better off had I used the acronym LBM. But I also wasn’t sure if Canadians used this term or just us acronym-loving FOBs.
There is definitely an advantage to speaking in another language like Tagalog, but sometimes I find English—the straightforward, grammatical English words—less offensive. For some reason, certain Tagalog terms—the straightforward, grammatical Tagalog words—simply sound disgusting. They are too embarrassing even for a dictionary. I remember searching for certain terms out of curiosity only to find them missing. I can quickly rattle off a few but I won't, for the sake of decency.