I was reading this post on the Tiki Tiki Blog about Violeta’s grandmother’s sayings, and it got me thinking about all of the colorful – and sometimes downright strange – sayings, or “dichos,” that I grew up with. These are not unique to my family. Cubans have been passing down these colloquialisms for generations. The majority of them seem to involve food (“como un merengue en la puerta de una escuela a la hora de salir”) or farm animals (“parece una chiva de rifa”). I have no idea why.
What’s really interesting to me is how you hear the same sayings over and over throughout your life, and they become so ingrained in your vocabulary, that you can hear just a few words (“parece un merengue”) and still understand the full intent behind them. They literally become second nature. Honestly, if you really break them down and take them at face value, they make no sense. Yet, most Cubans instantly recognize what these sayings mean.
For example, every time I say to my mom “oye, Popa,” she immediately knows that means to put her purse down. Amongst my Cuban-American friends, we translate these sayings into English, and yet they still have the same meaning to us. I can’t tell you how many times my best friend and I have told each other that something snores mangoes (“le ronca un mango”) or that we just fell out of the tree (“me cai de la mata”).
Personally, I love my culture’s funny sayings. I love the way they roll off your tongue and any Cuban within earshot knows exactly what you mean, no explanation necessary. I love that they date all the way to back to our great – (and sometimes great-great-) grandparents, and yet they live on, generation after generation. I love that they never get old, no matter how old they get.
A few of my favorites (and explanations for the above):
- * ”Nana nina javon candado” – This was a tagline from an old soap commercial in Cuba. It’s another way of saying “no way” when you absolutely refuse to do something.
- “Como un merengue en la puerta de una escuela a la hora de salir” (Like a meringue in a school doorway at the end of the school day) – Indicates something very delicate or fragile.
- “Parece una chiva de rifa” (She looks like a goat in a raffle drawing) – A woman wearing way too much flashy jewelry.
- “Oye Popa, suerta la cartera” (Hey Popa, put your purse down) – It literally means “put your purse down, sit and relax”
- “Le ronca un mango” (That snores mangoes) – That sucks!
- “Me cai de la mata” (I fell out of the tree) – I just learned something new/figured it out.
- “Es una postalita” (He’s a postcard) – Describes a very effeminate man, or a man that is really into his appearance. A pretty boy.
- “Estoy mas arrancada que la manga de un chaleco” (I am even more ripped than the sleeves on a vest) – I’m flat broke.
- “Que poco duro la pascua en Diciembre” (That December festival was very short-lived) – When something pleasant or good doesn’t last very long.
- “La mujer de quien?” (Whose wife?) – When someone is referring to a female in conversation and you have no idea who they are talking about. When they explain who the person is, and you still don’t know them, you would follow that up with…
- “Muy conocida en su casa” (She’s very famous in her own home) – No clue who that is.
And lastly -
- “Me cayo como una patada en el higado” (That felt like a kick in the liver) – When you have to deal with something, or someone, that annoys the crap out of you.
You know, I have days when I really love being Cuban. And now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to fix something to eat “porque estoy partida de el hambre” and if you let me “me como un Chino si me lo pones alante.” **
** "estoy partida de el hambre" (“I am broken from the hunger”, ie, "I’m starving"), “me como uno Chino si me lo pones alante” ("I would eat a Chinese man if you put him in front of me", ie, "I could eat like a pig right now").
Please note" my Spanish spelling may not be correct, but I couldn’t spellcheck in Spanish.