Three weeks ago, on my way home, I stumbled upon a Gray’s Papaya. This was a prize find. One night a week, I get 2 hot dogs with onion, sauerkraut, and mustard and a drink for $2.75. It makes for a great dinner.
At this particular Gray’s Papaya, the counter is manned by anywhere from 2-4 Filipinos. I hear them speaking, and I feel inclined to say “thank you” in my native tongue. Perhaps we could strike up a conversation and talk about what part of The Island we’re from. I have this idea that we’d immediately become chums, and they’d start tossing me an extra hot dog just for being Filipino.
I hold off from chasing this pipe dream because I’m afraid of what they’ll think of me. My accent isn’t all that great. They might dismiss me as a poser. It’s a bit like when I first moved to The Americas, and everyone dismissed me because I sounded so Filipino. (This may also explain why, when I was young, my only friends in the neighborhood were the Indian [of the tandoori chicken variety] and Yugoslavian kids with parents from their respective motherlands.)
My fluency is also shaky. I can’t speak the language too well. I’m about as good as a 7-year-old. They’d immediately call me out on it and would probably think I’m an idiot.
I can, however, understand the language very well. It’s very interesting hearing them talk behind the counter. They’re not really saying much other than asking each other how many hot dogs customers order, what they want on hot dogs, and what drinks they select. I would’ve thought there’d be more interesting conversation. This also led me to wonder if this is the same kind of stuff that the Spanish-speaking employees at restaurants discuss. I always thought they’d be talking about their weekend or girlfriends while they worked. Maybe they’re just discussing whether I wanted guacamole and corn with my burrito.
I also wonder if they know I’m Filipino. Many people have confused me for some sort of Hispanic, mainly Mexican, but I’ve also been accused of being Cuban.
I have 3 more futbol games, so I have 3 more opportunities to overcome my native insecurities. Maybe on the night of the last game, I’ll summon enough courage to strike up a conversation with my fellow Islanders. If not, I’ll just get drunk at a West Village bar, head over to Gray’s Papaya, and start talking in slurred Filipino to the Mexicans who'll just happen to be working that night.