One thing that I’ve noticed since I began teaching: a lot of people suck at spelling. This goes obviously for native speakers of both English and Spanish, but since most of my students are native Spanish speakers, I’ll concentrate on talking about them.
I think that the root of the problem is that Spanish is a highly phonetic language, and there aren’t very many tricky words, orthographically speaking. Sure, a Spanish speaker may write a C or S when they should use a Z, and then there’s the perpetual problem of mixing up V and B because they make the same sound in good ol’ castellano. Still, that’s nothing nearly as complicated as English, with its bastardized mixture of words and spelling systems from all sorts of languages.
Most of the problems here seem to come up when a Spanish speaker has to spell words from another language. For example, I’ve seen various trucks that have been repainted, and instead of just leaving a plain-colored tailgate, people elect to also re-paint the brand name of the truck they’re driving (Brand consciousness here is strangely very high; it’s like a marketing agency’s dream audience, but alas, that’s a topic for another post at another time). In any case, I’ve seen at least three different cars that had their brand names re-painted boldly, proudly, and wrong. I saw a beat-up old “Hiunday” truck just a week ago, and one of my favorites from the past was a mini pickup that read “Izusu.” This, of course, begs two questions: 1) Why not look at another part of the car to figure out how to spell the name correctly? and 2) Why be so concerned about a shitty brand like Hyundai or Isuzu—How about choosing something classier like “Mersedes Bens” or “Lan Rober”?
All of that really doesn’t matter much until it all hits home: “Ryan Sitzman” is definitely not a common Spanish name. Strangely enough, the name “Bryan” is very popular here, but in order to get it pronounced correctly, you need to write it “Brayan.” Basically, though, when it’s not tourist season, I may be the only Ryan in the country. As a result, most conversations I have about my name go something like this:
Guy at Gas Station: “Would you like a receipt?”
Me: “Um, sure.”
GGS: “What name should I put?”
Me: “Well, I’m called Ryan.”
GGS: “Oh, Brayan.”
Me: “Almost. It’s like ‘Brian,’ but without B.”
GGS: “So, Bryan.”
Me: “Uh, yeah, but without the B.” (As I say this, I usually notice that the guy is writing “B-R-A…”) “Oh, umm….”
Me: “It’s R-Y-A-N.”
GGS: (Getting confused and crossing out letters) “B-R…?”
Anyhow, the picture above is a receipt that a store clerk insisted on completing when I bought a shirt on the way to San Carlos (aka “Saint Chuck”). Angela was with me, and both of us were spelling my first and last name for the lady at the register, so I know this spelling isn’t due to my bad Spanish. I still have no idea how the girl came up with “Fraiyan Sixsman,” though, when we were spelling it for her in person, one letter at a time.
The end result: if there were restaurants around here that took reservations, I’d be making them under the name Roberto Sanchez.