El Guiño (The Wink)

Today is Spanish Friday so this post is in Spanish. If you participated in Spanish Friday on your own blog, leave your link in comments. English translation below!

En su trabajo, Carlos se ha hecho muy amigo con uno de sus compañeros mexicanos que se llama Benjamín. Juntos, ellos le gustan hacer burlas a otro compañero quién es gringo. Carlos y Benjamín comenzaron con un chiste de guiñar uno al otro porque se hace incomodo para el gringo.

Bueno, a pesar de que Benjamín es su amigo, le gusta engañar a Carlos también. El otro día, con su teléfono celular oculto, Benjamin hizo un guiño a Carlos y luego grabó en video Carlos guiñando en repuesta para poder chantajearlo.

Por suerte, Carlos no siente nada de vergüenza y no le importa si Benjamín muestra el video a sus hermanos y primos que trabajan con ellos. Carlos hasta dijo que puedo compartir el video aquí. Supongo que Benjamin tendrá que intentarlo de nuevo para capturar a Carlos haciendo algo más vergonzoso.


At work, Carlos has become good friends with one of his Mexican co-workers named Benjamín. Together, they like to play jokes on a gringo co-worker. Carlos and Benjamín started a joke where they wink at each other because it makes the gringo uncomfortable.

Well, even though Benjamín is his friend, he likes to trick Carlos as well. The other day, with his cellphone hidden from sight, Benjamín winked at Carlos and then video taped Carlos winking back, with plans to use the video as blackmail.

Luckily Carlos didn’t feel at all ashamed about the video and he didn’t care if Benjamín showed it to his brothers and cousins who also work there. Carlos even said I could share the video here. I guess Benjamín will have to try again to catch Carlos doing something more embarrassing.

Other posts about Carlos’s co-workers:

Banana Envy
El Lechero (The Milkman)
Mexicans vs. Salvadorans
Lunch Envy

Feminine Strength vs. Machismo

Image source: Ray Larabie

In high school we would have one week of gym class that we spent in the weight lifting room. It was in a dark, windowless room down a forgotten hallway. Students were allowed access to it after school but it was often forgotten, except by the jocks. The girls stood in a corner talking, watching the boys, examining their nails and refusing to do anything other than a minute on the rowing machine – preferring to take a zero for the day. I, however, loved our week in the weight lifting room.

Already known for challenging boys to arm wrestling contests at lunch time, (and sometimes winning), my reputation was further sealed by my behavior in the weight lifting room. The boys gathered around to see how much I could bench press, taking bets that I wouldn’t be able to do it each time the peg was moved lower and the weight got heavier. I fed on their pessimism. I loved being underestimated. I took a deep breath, felt the muscles ripping but pushed, pushed, pushed, my lips closed tight, my nostrils flaring. I heard them say knowingly to each other, “She can’t lift it” – as I struggled. My arms shook and I pushed harder still until I would feel the weight give way and my arms straightened above me in victory.

I didn’t care that I wasn’t the kind of girl you ask to the prom, but instead the kind of girl you ask to help push the car when it breaks down. I come from a family of strong women. My mother is well-known for re-decorating while my father is at work – sometimes moving heavy furniture up and down two flights of stairs by herself.

I associated femininity with weakness and wanted no part of it, but I realized how simplistic this point of view was when I gave birth to my first child. Giving birth is an act that is simultaneously the height of femininity and strength. Now, as the mother of two boys, the lone female in a household full of males, I value my feminine side more than I did growing up. Being married to Carlos though, has made me examine my femininity from a cultural perspective. It hasn’t been easy to sort out.

I will try to open a jar of pickles. Carlos will offer to help, reach his hand out for the jar, and I’ll turn away with the jar, stubbornly determined to do it myself. This is when Carlos will tell me I’m like my mother or say, “Why do you have to be so American?!” … to which I’d reply, “Why is it an insult to your manhood for me to open the pickles myself?!”

Over the years, I’ve learned to (usually), hand over the jar of pickles. It makes Carlos feel good to do it for me. I never pretend I can’t do anything, but if it’s difficult, why not give him the satisfaction of feeling that he takes care of me?

I thought that over the years, Carlos and I had mostly ironed out this one cultural wrinkle. We both have made compromises. I let him open jars of pickles that are difficult for me to open, (damn you, carpal tunnel) – and he doesn’t expect me to act completely helpless – fair enough… but at the grocery store while I was unloading the cart at the cash register, I retrieved the case of bottled water from the bottom of the cart and hefted it up and onto the conveyor belt. I thought nothing of it but Carlos whispered through clenched teeth, “Hey, you should have asked me to do it. You’re embarrassing me.”

Embarrassing Carlos was not my intention or even something I had considered – I just wanted to get the groceries checked out so we could go home, (and for the record, the cashier seemed completely unaware of the battle going on right in front of her.) I guess the lesson here is that Carlos and I will always have cultural issues to work on – nothing is ever resolved so completely that it won’t pop up again, so ingrained are the traits we bring from our two different backgrounds.

What is your take and your experiences on the topic of feminine strength vs. machismo?

Cinco de Yuca

Today is Spanish Friday so this post is in Spanish. If you participated in Spanish Friday on your own blog, leave your link in comments. Scroll down for English translation!

Tener el pelo largo significa que tengo que buscar formas creativas para atarme el pelo, especialmente en invierno cuándo mi pelo está mojado después de bañarme y me da frío sentirlo tocando mi piel. Usualmente hago un moño desordenado pero a veces trato algo diferente, incluyendo trenzas.

La única cosa es que Carlos se pone un poco raro conmigo cuando me ve con dos trenzas. Su rostro se ve como cuando nos conocimos, sus mejillas cambian a color rojo y sus ojos brillan. “Te ves tan bonita”, me dice, tirando las trenzas. Pensé que me veo un poco ridícula con trenzas. Yo ni siquiera salgo a la calle así, pero si Carlos le gusta, me decido a aceptar sus piropos.

El otro día, cuando tenía el pelo en dos trenzas, Carlos actuó de la misma manera, y luego me llamó su “cinco de yuca”.

“¿Cinco de yuca?” dije, “¿Qué es eso?

Carlos me enseño un video, “La Cinco de Yuca” por Los Caballeros del Sabor.

Ahora sé por qué se pone tan tontito sobre las trenzas!


Having long hair means I have to find creative ways to tie it back, especially in winter when it’s wet from the shower and it makes me cold to feel it touch my skin. I usually do a messy bun but sometimes I try something different, including braids.

The only thing is that Carlos gets a little weird with me when I wear my hair in two braids. His face looks like when we first met, his cheeks turn red and his eyes sparkle. “You look so pretty,” he says, pulling my braids. I always thought I look a bit ridiculous with braids – I don’t even go out in public like that, but if Carlos likes it, I decided, I will accept his flirtations.

The other day, when I had my hair in two braids, Carlos acted the same as he’s been acting, but then he called me his “cinco de yuca.”

“Cinco de yuca?” I said, “What is that?

Carlos showed me a video, “La Cinco de Yuca” by Los Caballeros del Sabor.

Now I know why he gets so silly about the braids!

“Pass the Vacuum” and other Carlos-isms

Carlos "passing the vacuum"

If you’ve raised a child, you know that as they’re learning to speak, they make a lot of really cute mistakes. It could be a grammatical error, or a word misunderstood and used inappropriately, but for someone like me who adores everything about linguistics, it’s one of my very favorite things about childhood. (Raising bilingual children means one gets a double dose of these sweet slip-ups!)

At some point though, your children get older and their language abilities improve. The mistakes become few and far between so when they make one, maybe, just maybe, you don’t correct them. You can’t stop them from growing up, but you can selfishly make it last a little longer.

I still remember years ago at the table. My younger son asked what we were having for dinner.

“Enchiladas,” I said.

“Lavas? I hate lavas,” he responded, crossing his little arms over his chest.

My older son, ever the know-it-all, corrected him, “Not LAVAS! EnchiLADAS!… Geez, if it was lavas you’d burn your mouth all up!”

But that was about eight years ago. At thirteen and ten years old, my boys are growing up and those days are fading fast. Fortunately, I still have Carlos.

Don’t get me wrong – Carlos’s English is fantastically proficient these days, but there are still a few words and phrases that I haven’t really corrected over all these years. Here are a few I wrote down the past couple weeks. (It took me a couple weeks to listen to him in daily conversation and compile the list because at this point, some of this phrasing is starting to sound normal to me!)

Wings – Carlos never uses the word “underarm” or “armpit” – instead he uses, “wings.” … In Spanish, it is accepted slang to refer to them as such. (At least in El Salvador.) And so he’s just directly translated “alas” – the Spanish word for “wings.” This one has even caught on with my Anglo parents. When they heard him use it with our first son as a baby, they couldn’t resist adopting its use into their own lexicon.

Example: [Said to one of our sons before they shower] – “Don’t forget to clean your wings! You smell a little stinky.”

Pass the vacuum – This is another direct translation. In Spanish there isn’t a verb for vacuum. You say “Pasar la aspiradora” (or more common in the United States, the Spanglish version, “Pasar el vacuum.”) Because of Carlos, the kids actually say “pass the vacuum” in English and think it’s totally normal.

Example: “I’m going to pass the vacuum. The boys got dirt on the carpet.”

Joke hard – I’m not even totally sure about this one because I’ve started to use it over the years, too. What is meant by ‘joke hard’ is to joke around with someone and tease them in such a way that you’re almost crossing the line into making them angry.

Example: “That guy likes to joke hard with people, but he doesn’t like it when others make fun of him.”

You passed me your insert illness! – This might be acceptable in English although I would say we only use it to refer to cold/flu germs. Whenever Carlos falls sick or has any sort of injury though, you can be sure he will be blaming family members left and right, telling them that they ‘passed’ their illness onto him, whatever that illness might be.

Example: “My back hurts. You passed me your back problems!”

They exaggerate too much! – In Spanish, it’s common to say “los precios son exagerados” – (the prices are exaggerated) – so I think that’s where he got this one from.

Example: “Are they kidding? Ten dollars for that?! They exaggerate too much!”

Your shirt looks like a cow chewed on it. – Carlos has no patience for wrinkled clothing. Wrinkled clothing is totally unacceptable. This weird phrasing is the direct translation of “Parece que la vaca masticó tu camisa” – which apparently is a perfectly normal way to make fun of someone’s wrinkled shirt in El Salvador.

Example: “You can’t wear that to school! Look at it! It looks like a cow chewed your shirt!”

Respect the table! – If the boys are being rude at the dinner table, it’s not tolerated. Like Carlos, I expect good manners, but when Carlos shouts, “Respect the table!” – it is terribly difficult to keep a straight face. The boys also want to giggle, but they don’t dare. “Respeta la mesa” is a normal request in Spanish but in English it would be better to say, “Mind your manners!”

Example: Hey. HEY! Respect the table! I don’t think you want me to take off my chancla.


Hola! Today is Spanish Friday so this post is in Spanish. If you participated in Spanish Friday on your own blog, leave your link in comments! English translation in italics!

Aquí está mi esposo, Carlos, graduando de secundaria en El Salvador, con su diploma en mano. (1995)

Here is my husband, Carlos, graduating from high school in El Salvador, with his diploma in hand. (1995)

Y aquí está Carlos anoche con su certificado de Asistente Dental. Recibió un B+ en su examen final.

And here is Carlos last night with his Dental Assisting certificate. He received a B+ on the final exam.

¿Mencioné que él vino a Los Estados Unidos hablando casi nada de inglés? Qué orgullo para sus hijos americanos – y ahora ellos no tienen excusas de no hacer su mejor en la escuela. Si su papá puede hacerlo, ellos pueden hacerlo también.

Did I mention that he came to the United States speaking almost no English? How proud his American children are – and now they have no excuses not to do their best in school. If their Daddy can do it, they can do it, too.

The problem with having a common last name

Image source: splityarn

{Phone call this morning}

Hi Trace!
Um, Hi.
What’s up, Trace?!
Um, I’m sorry who is this?
Don’t pretend you don’t know who this is!
I’m sorry, I really don’t.
I’m one of Carlos’s friends.
Okay, sorry, that doesn’t help me. Which one of his friends?
Come on, Trace! You know! Stop playin!
I really don’t, sorry.
I’m the one who always picks on ya, Trace!
Um, I don’t even hang out with Carlos’s friends enough for anyone to pick on me.
Come on, Trace! You know who this is! It’s Eric!
We’re not good friends with anyone named Eric and very few people even call me, Trace.
Stop playin! I know it’s you! I know your voice!
Obviously not. I think you’ve got the wrong Tracy and Carlos.
No I don’t! You’re the only one’s in the book! Tracy and Carlos Lopez!
That doesn’t mean anything. Lopez is a really common last name and I’m telling you, I don’t know you!
Yes you do!
Okay, fine, where is Carlos from?
Yes, he is!
I think I know where my own husband is from and he’s not from Mexico.
Okay… sorry about that. Bye.


And this isn’t even the first time people have called insisting they knew who we were and that we were the ones who were confused. One night a not-so-intelligent sounding teenage girl called. When I answered the phone she demanded to know who I was and what was I doing at Carlos’s house.

“I live here. I’m his wife!” I said.
“No you ain’t! He ain’t got no wife!”
“You’ve got the wrong Carlos, honey.”
“No I don’t! I met him last night and I’m his new girlfriend. He told me to look him up in the book and this is the only one. Who the hell are you?”
“Honey, you’re making a fool of yourself. Carlos Lopez is a common name and my Carlos was right here with me last night just like he is every night.”
“You’re lyin!”
“No hon, you’re confused. Look, where is your Carlos from?”
“He’s Spanish!”

{I highly doubt the guy she met was from Spain. By “Spanish” she simply meant “Latino” but was too ignorant to know the difference – so this question didn’t help anything.}

“Let me talk to him!” she demanded.
I handed the phone to Carlos. After she spoke with him for a minute she realized it wasn’t her Carlos and hung up.


Neither of these phone calls were as bad as the one from the police looking for a Carlos Lopez who had a warrant out for his arrest due to a parole violation. (Thankfully the mix-up was untangled within minutes.)

Even though it costs extra to have an unlisted number in the phone book, I’m starting to seriously consider it.

Banana Envy

Image source: keepon

I mentioned before that the Mexican guys Carlos works with often give him a hard time as the lone Salvadoran. It doesn’t help that most of them are somehow related – (brothers and cousins), and that most of them live together, so it’s natural for them to gang up on him.

His first week working there, they tested the waters with Carlos, to see how far they could go with their teasing.

“Ey, Don,” one of them said to him at lunch time as they sat across the table from each other. (“Don” is what they call him when they don’t call him “Pupusa.”)

“Tengo una lancha. Tal vez quieres montarla un día?” (“I have a boat. Maybe you’d like to ride it one day?”)

Carlos politely agreed, sure, he’d love to take a ride on his lancha some day.

All the Mexican guys started laughing. It took Carlos a minute to realize that “lancha” is slang for “penis” – or at least it is within their group.

This is the “art” of the Mexican “albur.”

“In Mexico, an albur is a pun or a double entendre in which one of the possible meanings usually carries sexual undertones.”
– Wikipedia.

Carlos has a sense of humor so usually he doesn’t let it get to him, even if it annoys him to be their permanent piñata. (I really hope his boss hires some Salvadorans for Carlos’s “team” though, so at least it will be an evenly matched fight.)

Many of the on-going jokes occur at lunch time and revolve around food. Whenever Carlos brings a less than impressive lunch, they tease him and say, “I guess Sancho is eating all the good food at your house” – (implying that I’m cheating on him and making all the good food for my lover, while leaving the scraps for Carlos.)

The bananas are apparently also always a source of amusement. (Not much has changed since middle school, I see.)

The bananas we buy, (which are perfectly normal-sized bananas from a perfectly normal grocery store), are much smaller than the gigantic bananas the Mexican guys bring in their lunch. Carlos texted me this photo at lunch time:

Carlos's banana on the left. A Mexican co-worker's banana on the right.

I will have to reassure Carlos that the size of his banana is totally normal, above average even, and that I like it just the way it is. Besides, things could always be much, much worse.

Image source: cthoyes

More posts about my husband’s co-workers:

El Lechero (The Milkman)
Mexicans vs. Salvadorans
Lunch Envy

Bilingual signs, accordions, botas picudas y más

I know that some people are totally against signs being put into any language other than English in the United States, but I think that most bilinguals would agree with me that it’s pretty awesome. It’s a learning opportunity, gente! Take advantage of it! Free mini-Spanish lessons in every aisle of K-Mart.

While I walked around admiring the new bilingual signs at our K-Mart, (which I love), I did catch a typo, though.

On some of the signs where they attempted to use the word “cuidado” (care), like this one for fabric care products – they had accidentally switched the “u” and “i” …Oops. I thought about letting management know but didn’t want to seem obnoxious, plus, what if it’s a nationwide typo? … I’ll send them an E-mail.

Other chévere things I spotted while out and about…

This accordion was at Goodwill – I wanted it, but I don’t have $200 and I don’t know how to play it, so that would be kind of pointless, unless I have a third kid, which I’m not going to do. (My oldest son plays trumpet and my younger son is learning to play violin. Carlos has a guitar he’s supposed to be learning to play… I’m trying to create my own personal mariachi group, but without a third child, I won’t be able to start a group to play me norteñas. Rayos.)

Anyway, a few weeks ago we went to eat lunch at a little local Mexican place which is kind of new. It’s not fancy and is privately owned. Its got the expected stereotypical Mexican decorations on the walls but the food is more authentic, there’s a TV that plays telenovelas that the women watch while they cook and the little kids of the employees run around freely in the dining room. It’s kind of nice and makes you feel like you’re eating at a friend’s house.

So while we were sitting there waiting for our food, some of the kids run by and go into the office to play. (They left the “office” door open and there’s actually a bed and a bunch of toys in there.) … While I was looking in that direction, I noticed the coat stand in the corner there. On top was one of the novelty sombreros, and hanging below that was one of the kids’ backpacks, (Washington Redskins themed.) … The symbolism, irony and clash of cultures existing there on that coat stand made me think.

This last photo is from just the other day. We were grocery shopping and while we were in the produce section, this group of Mexican guys walks past. Carlos was watching me so I looked down respectfully and didn’t flirt.

“Look!” Carlos whispered to me. Permission to look? Órale!
I looked up but was confused as to why Carlos wanted me to.
“The boots,” Carlos clarified, pointing with his chin.
“Oh! Botas picudas!”
“Okay, calm down,” Carlos said.

Apparently I had become too excited for his liking, I couldn’t take my eyes off the boots though.

“I wish I could take a photo,” I said wistfully.
Carlos examined an apple and ignored me.

I gauged Carlos’s mood carefully and decided to take a chance.
“Would it be weird if you asked one of them if I could take a photo of his boots?”

Carlos hesitated for a few seconds but before I knew it, he was leading me over to one of the guys who was putting tomatoes into a bag.

“Excuse me,” Carlos said in Spanish. “My wife likes your boots. Do you mind me asking where you got them?”

The guy seemed a little weirded out and kept looking at us funny. He looked over his shoulder, either looking for a hidden camera (or something worse), or perhaps trying to get his compañeros attention so they could come rescue him from the cuckoo Salvadoran guy and his gringa.

He told us where he bought them and that they cost him $300.

“They’re really nice,” Carlos lied, (because he hates botas picudas. He was only doing this for me.) “Do you think my wife could take a photo of your boots?”

The guy waited a second to see if Carlos was joking and then laughing nervously, nodded his head yes.

“Gracias! Son padrisimas!” I squealed with all the enthusiasm one might give to a movie star upon getting their autograph.

“Calm down,” Carlos reminded me.

“Okay,” I said, kissing him on the cheek. “Thanks, nene.”

I always say that he’s lucky to have me because I put up with his hot temper and celos … but I’m lucky to have someone who puts up with my locuras, too.

Back to School – not just for the niños

Carlos recently started college classes in Dental Assisting. We really aren’t quite sure what he’ll do with that certificate when/if he passes, since dental assistants make half of what he makes at his labor job.

College is something Carlos has wanted to do since before he even came to the United States. He actually wanted to be a doctor in El Salvador, but he couldn’t afford to go to university – He immigrated here instead. Speaking almost no English, he washed windows, worked at McDonald’s, put flyers on cars. He left his dreams of being a doctor far behind.

Fourteen years later the opportunity came up for him to take this Dental Assisting course. Everything fell into place – he received a grant that covered the entire cost, the classes are 5 minutes down the street from our house, and the class is in the evenings so it doesn’t interfere with his work day. We decided, ¿Por qué no? … Why not?

The only thing Carlos was uncertain about was his English. He questioned whether it was yet good enough to make it through a college class. I told him he had nothing to lose and everything to gain. I told him I would study with him for as long as it took until he understood everything. In the end, even if he completely failed, at least he would have tried instead of spent the rest of his life wondering what could have been.

Well, Carlos has made it through 2 weeks of classes now. On his first test? He received an 83% B.

Evenings are a little crazy here. The other night I was simultaneously helping both our boys with their homework while helping Carlos study words even I have trouble pronouncing in English, (Circumvallate lingual papillae, anyone?)

My brain was on overload, helping Carlos with dental vocabulary while trying to figure out a tangram puzzle with my 9 year old.

Sometimes I just pronounce the words the way a Spanish speaker would when I’m dictating and he’s writing so I don’t have to spell them. Other times, it just so happens that a knowledge of Spanish helps one memorize the meaning of words that are rooted in Latin.


nonmaleficence – do no harm

The “no mal” is right there. “Not bad” makes it easier to remember that it means “do no harm” – (with “harm” obviously being “bad”.)

veracity – truthfulness

In Spanish, “truth” is “veracidad” – so again, being a non-native English speaker is actually helpful with some of this vocabulary.

Sometimes being a Spanish speaker isn’t helpful at all though.

We laughed at this one for a few minutes before we could get back on track. Apparently a “mamelon” is only the “edge of an incisor tooth when it first erupts through the gum.” (Boring in comparison to what we were thinking about!)

Anyway, even though we aren’t sure where this class might take him, I think it’s a good thing. Not only is Carlos building confidence, but he’s setting an example for the boys. He always tells them, “Go to college so you don’t have to work like a burro.” Now he is showing them what can be done when you take a chance and put your heart into it.

How many more advantages our kids have compared to what Carlos came from – and yet there he is, with a backpack full of books at 33 years old and still speaking English with an accent so thick I sometimes have to help him out at drive thru windows.

Maybe he won’t ever be Dr. López, but I’d say nothing is impossible.