My mom Frieda is sharing some stories from when she and my dad were young missionaries. Enjoy her story below.
Hal and I were driving up to the States from Nicaragua with our three very small children after our first term of service in Central America. Before this I had always flown to Central America, and it was my first time to be in Mexico. Although I had flown down four years before because it was a few weeks before the birth of our first child, Hal had driven through Mexico alone, accompanied only by his bird dog. When we crossed the border of Guatemala into Mexico, we had to stop in the big customs station. I asked Hal if he knew what they called the bathroom in Mexico, and he told me confidently, “Yes, it’s the ‘W.C.’.” Well, he is usually right about everything, but in this case, I flat out didn’t believe him. I knew those initials stand for “water closet” in England, but the Spanish alphabet doesn’t even have a “W.” I had started learning Spanish when my parents moved to Honduras when I was ten, but Hal was 29 when he went to Spanish Language School in Costa Rica. Come to think of it, when he traveled through Mexico alone, his Spanish mostly consisted of “Gracias, usted es muy amable” (Thank you, you are very kind). Upon inquiring of the customs personnel, I found he was right! Actually, as I found out later, “W.C.” is used in many public places, although for everyday use people just call the bathroom the baño (bath) as in English.
There was a reason that I was concerned about getting the right word. After my family moved from Honduras to Panama, we did not have a car, and would walk about a mile from our house to the building where we held meetings. In that hot climate, many people would be sitting on their front porches, and as we went by, we would greet them and call out in Spanish, “We’re going to the service. Come go with us,” as we would have said in Honduras. It turned out that in Panama the “servicio” was what they called the bathroom, so we were inviting everyone to go to the bathroom with us!
Years later, Hal and I went to Costa Rica as new missionaries. The family from whom we rented a house invited us to dinner. Since Hal didn’t speak Spanish yet and our hosts didn’t speak English, I had to carry on the conversation by myself. Something was mentioned about the revolution that had just taken place in the neighboring country of Panama. I had gotten a letter that day from a missionary friend there. She and another missionary wife had been in the interior of Panama, which is what all of the republic except Panama City and the Canal Zone was called, and their husbands had gone to take care of some business in Panama City. When the revolution broke out, the men could not get home. I thought it was a pretty good story that the wives were alone without their husbands during the scary days of the revolution, but the shock on our hosts’ faces seemed more than was warranted. Soon after that I learned that in Costa Rica the bathroom is called el interior, I suppose to differentiate indoor facilities from outhouses (escusados). I was saying that the two women were trapped in the bathroom for the duration of the revolution!
So you can understand why I want to be sure to get the right word when I go to another Spanish-speaking country.