EVERY morning as I reach for breakfast I am cruelly mocked by my fridge. “You are an enormous nude strawberry,” it tells me, in Spanish. “Your delicious food is in the fire with a cow.”
When we moved to Mexico a few months ago someone thought that our language skills might be helped along by a set of magnetic poetry. About a hundred Spanish words are printed on plastic, backed by a magnetic strip that you can stick to the fridge door in whatever amusing or obscene combination appeals. I have no idea what our cleaner makes of it.
We had a similar set in English when we lived in London, and they make an interesting comparison of the grammar of each language. It is fair to say that when Spanish was invented, its developers did not have magnetic fridge-poetry in mind. The main problem is the verbs: whereas in English “I vomit” just as “you vomit” and “we vomit”, in Spanish I vomito, whereas you would vomitas or indeed vomita if we were using the polite form of address. A group vomiting session would require vomitamos or vomitan. In Spain, you might even need vomitáis, the informal second-person plural.
This is a serious blow to fridge poetry. My Spanish edition is a mess of dismembered verbs, their infinitive endings removed, and a sea of suffixes. In English one only needs an “s” and one can form every version of the present tense of nearly all verbs. The same feat in Spanish requires six fiddly new magnetic pieces. Even humble adjectives are a pain: separate “o”, “a” and “s” pieces are required to make them agree with gender and number.
Advanced fridge poets quickly tire of the present tense, and this is when Spanish really falls apart. English just needs “will” for the future; Spanish once more requires a string of new endings: vomitaré, vomitarás, and so on. The past is no better. In Latin America the past tense is arguably even more problematic than in Spain: whereas the Spanish make liberal use of the present-perfect tense (“I have vomited”), Latinos tend to use the indefinite-past (simply “I vomited”), which requires yet more troublesome suffixes.
Outside the kitchen, Spanish grammar has great benefits: spoken Spanish is much neater than English, with no need for personal pronouns, as the verb-endings usually make clear enough who is doing what. Spanish speeches can be more dramatic than English ones, and mottos can be as succinct as Latin. But it is absolute hell for fridges.