February 16, 2006

Not my kind of Spanish

A colleague of mine has spent a not inconsiderable part of the last six weeks arm-wrestling by phone with one of these disgusting health insurance management contracting companies that seem to work as if their fiduciary duty to their stockholders is best performed by impeding customers' access to payment on their insurance claims. The claim in question involves a lung operation that had to be carried out on my colleague's daughter while she was in Argentina. And one of the myriad excuses he got over the phone (during six weeks of "We've had some trouble reading the fax" and "We're still awaiting authorization" and "We're having difficulties finding out the exchange rate") was from a Spanish-speaking woman on the staff who said she was having trouble reading the bills because she is a speaker of Mexican Spanish and the bills are in Argentinian Spanish. Just about the lamest language excuse I ever heard. I've had a look at the bills. They're impeccably clear, and they say things like "HABITACION INDIVIDUAL VISTA AL JARDIN" (single garden-view room), "HIDROCORTISONA 500MG" (500 milligrams of hydrocortisone), "DEXTROSA 5% EN AGUA X 500 ML" (500 milliliters of a 5% solution of dextrose in water), "LLAMADAS TELEFONICAS" (phone calls), "OXYCONTIN 10 MG" [O.K., it's time you tried some Spanish translation; see if you can guess what this item might have been] . . . In other words, absolutely nothing arises in the bills that could possibly be thought to vary between the Spanish of Mexico and Argentina. Do you think the employee really had a language barrier?

Posted by Geoffrey K. Pullum at February 16, 2006 12:47 PM