Is your friend a child or a pig?

One day my oldest son was telling Suegra about a classmate, and in describing the classmate, my son mentioned the boy’s height.

“He’s about this tall,” he said in Spanish, holding his hand out flat, palm down.

Suegra snorted.

“Is your friend a child or a pig?”

And with that blunt question, we learned something new – Holding one’s hand out, palm down to suggest height as we do in the United States, is used only to describe the height of animals in El Salvador.

Hand gesture to suggest height of human or animal in the United States, this hand gesture is used only for height of animals in El Salvador.

In El Salvador, if you want to describe the height of a human being, you must hold your hand with your fingers pointed up, palm facing out, (the way we hold our hands to say “stop” in the United States.)

Hold your hand out like this to suggest height of a human when in El Salvador.

Which hand gesture do you use to suggest height? Is the hand gesture different for humans and animals?

Related link: My Hands Speak Spanish, too

Día de las Madres with the Tíos

My Día de las Madres was … not normal.

I will let my tweets tell the story.

11:59 am – Salvadoran relatives just showed up without calling & I’m not wearing a bra. Fantastic.

1:31 pm – now we’re off to the National Mall for the day. Love these last minute plans inlaws come up with.

2:50 pm – Suegra took us to Roy Rogers for lunch & complained it’s too $. Tio is taking fotos of the Fixins Bar ROFL

3:12 pm – OMG Carlos esta pidiendo permission por los tios to take a foto in front of the portrait of Roy Rogers #muriendo

4:42 pm – Just saw a guy taking a photo in front of Washington Monument holding it as if it’s his penis #creativetourist

Unfortunately, I stopped tweeting after that because I was too busy rushing the Tíos through the museums. (Most of them close around 5:30, but of course, since this trip was last minute, nobody thought about that.) … Since I’ve been to the museums a million times I would be like, “Este es el gorro de Presidente Abraham Lincoln,” – then I would rush to the next interesting thing while they took photos, call Carlos on his cell phone and tell him where to meet me next.

My method would have worked better if the Tíos were more obedient, but they kept wandering off. Nine times out of ten we’d find them admiring some type of taxidermy animal.

In case you don’t believe me:

Faces alterted to protect the somewhat innocent.

Thankfully I did have time to take a few more artistic shots that didn’t involve large Arctic animals. I’ve taken a million photos of the Washington Monument, (though I don’t have one where I’m pretending it’s a penis) – so I always try to get a new angle on it… This is my favorite from yesterday.

And my older son took this photo of me and Carlos.

Tracy and Carlos, Washington D.C. 2011

I also filmed inside the METRO station as a souvenir for the Tíos. Surprisingly, the video does not end with me throwing myself in front of the train, but only because it was Mother’s Day and the kids were there.

The music… it helps you.

This post is dedicated to all the musicians out there who make music and share it with the world – the famous and the not so famous. Thank you.


(image source)

The other day I took Suegra on an errand. As is my habit, I started the ignition, put on my seat belt, pressed play on the CD player, turned the volume up, and then checked my mirrors before backing out of the driveway.

Lately I’ve been playing the hell out of my Pitbull CD. I can’t play it around the niños but Suegra doesn’t catch the dirty lyrics. She did say once that she doesn’t like the Pitbull CD, but my car, my rules.

Suegra knows better than to complain too much though since I don’t like taking her on errands in the first place. Besides, I’ve caught her out of the corner of my eye tapping her fingers to the beat.

This particular day we’re driving along – a gringa and an elderly Salvadoran woman, with Pitbull blasting from the speakers. The sun is shining, I put on my sunglasses, roll the window down a little. Despite being on an errand with my mother-in-law, I’m feeling good. I’m smiling, moving to the beat, sauvecito – just a little – not so much that I look like a loca – happy to be alive and thankful for what I’ve got.

Suegra breaks my trance, yelling to be heard over the music, “Tracy, ya no tomas las pastillas para la tristeza, vá?”

I tell her that no, I haven’t taken medicine for depression for several years now.

Suegra nods, is quiet for a moment. We stop at a red light.

“La música…te ayuda, ¿verdad?” she lifts her chin in the direction of the radio.

Now it’s me who is quiet. I’ve never known Suegra to be especially insightful so I’m shocked into silence by the realization that she understands something so deeply personal about me without me having ever breathed a word of it aloud.

The music…it helps you.

Yes – I answer her. The music helps me.

Patriotism & Hot Dogs

What is more American than hot dogs? – At least that’s what I used to think.

I remember the first time I proudly served Carlos hot dogs. They were perfectly grilled in a nice soft bun. On the table – ketchup, mustard and relish so he could put whichever combination he liked. After we ate I asked him what he thought of our dinner. His response? “They were okay… but I like the hot dogs in El Salvador better.”

Qué qué?! Hot dogs in El Salvador? … When I was actually able to accept that they do indeed eat hot dogs in El Salvador, (and I later found out that there are variations around the world!), I refused to accept that they could be better than AMERICAN hot dogs – because hot dogs are from “AMERICA.” … {Star Spangled Banner plays in the background} … I never knew how patriotic I was until he insulted our hot dogs.

Well, over the years, I’ve come to accept that even though I’ve brainwashed him into liking peanut butter and jelly and other such American delicacies, he will always believe Salvadoran hot dogs are superior to American hot dogs. He still talks about the hot dog vendors in the streets of El Salvador in the same way one would wistfully describe a beloved girlfriend they had left behind.

Sensuntepeque, Cabañas en El Salvador

(image source)

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I have even tried to accommodate my husband by preparing the hot dogs in a more Salvadoran fashion. Per Carlos’s instructions, this involves:

• Slicing the hot dogs in a spiral
• Making sure the hot dog is cooked well done (either grilled or fried in oil)
• Toasting the bun
• Preparing a cabbage & mustard topping

I don’t know if that is officially a “Salvadoran hot dog” – but that’s how he’s asked me to make them. Here is how I make the cabbage topping.

___

Salvadoran Cabbage Topping for Hot Dogs

You need:

1/2 a small cabbage head shredded
yellow mustard
salt and pepper
oil

Method:

Heat a few tablespoons of cooking oil in a pan over medium-high heat. Add cabbage – frying while stirring for a minute. Add a few tablespoons of mustard. Continue to cook until cabbage caramelizes a bit, but don’t cook until soggy. Add salt and pepper to taste. Serve on top of hot dogs.

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As for Suegra, she goes one step further – she eats her hot dog inside of a tortilla.

Suegra's hot dog

EL PAPEL

(Today is Spanish Friday, in which I blog in Spanish. Need an English translation? It’s down below!)

Yo estaba diciendo a mi hijito que él dejaba un papel en mi escritorio que necesitaba por la escuela. Recientemente, ni modo si estoy super fustrada cuándo los niños no entienden mi español, yo me rehúso a cambiar a inglés. Es frustrante pero así es la vida bilingüe, no?

Por lo tanto, le repetía a mi hijo,

“La papel está en mi escritorio.”
“What?”
“La papel que quiere tu maestra está en mi escritorio.”
“What? Can you just say it in English, Mommy?”
“Tu maestra, tu profesora, en la escuela – ella quiere la papel que está en el escritorio en mi habitación – la dejaste allá.”

De la sala, mi suegra elevó la voz, “EL PAPEL!”
“¿Qué?” Me molesto por la interrupción.
“EL PAPEL! … Estás diciendo ‘la papel’ … es EL PAPEL.”
Oigo su risa. No me importa ser corregida, sino porque ya estoy fustrada, su risa me hace sentir defensiva. Me decido a ponerla en su lugar.
“Estás riendo pero ni sabes cómo decir papel en inglés!” dijé.

Antes de que podría sonreir de satisfacción, ella gritó otra vez desde la sala,
“Y no es ‘PAPER’, pues?”


ENGLISH TRANSLATION:

I was telling my youngest son that he left a paper on my desk that he needed for school. Lately, no matter how frustrated I get when the kids don’t understand my Spanish, I stubbornly repeat myself, sometimes changing the phrasing slightly – but refusing to switch to English even when they ask me. It’s frustrating but that’s bilingual life, right?

So I kept saying to my son,

“La papel está en mi escritorio.” (The paper is on my desk)
“What?”
“La papel que quiere tu maestra está en mi escritorio.” (The paper your teacher wants is on my desk)
“What? Can you just say it in English, Mommy?”
“Tu maestra, tu profesora, en la escuela – ella quiere la papel que está en el escritorio en mi habitación – la dejaste allá.” (Your teacher, your professor, at school – she wants the paper that is on the desk in my room – you left it there.)

From the other room, Suegra pipes up, “EL PAPEL!” (The paper!)
“¿Qué?” (What) I snap, annoyed at the interruption.
“EL PAPEL! … Estás diciendo ‘la papel’ … es EL PAPEL.” (The paper! You’re saying ‘la papel’ – it’s EL papel.)
I hear her giggle. I don’t mind being corrected but because I’m already frustrated, her giggle makes me feel defensive. I decide to put her in her place.
“Estás riendo pero ni sabes cómo decir papel en inglés!” I say. (You’re laughing but you don’t even know how to say paper in English!)

Before I can smirk in satisfaction, she yells from the other room,
“Y no es ‘PAPER’, pues?” (It’s ‘paper’ isn’t it?)

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White Socks

I am not a fashionista. It has only been in recent years that I have dared step beyond jeans, T-shirts and chanclas to mix it up a little and try to find my own unique style, (which still involves an inordinate amount of jeans, T-shirts and chanclas.)

That being said, for some reason, Suegra looks up to me as if I’m a hot celebrity who is up on the latest trends. Should Suegra have a fashion question, it is me she consults. I do my best to advise her, with the very little fashion knowledge that I possess.

So, the other day Suegra comes to me modeling some new shoes. They were formal black, women’s shoes… and she was wearing them with white socks. I told her that unless she’s Michael Jackson, a Catholic school girl, or wearing a poodle skirt, that white socks with black shoes were absolutely unacceptable.

A few days later, we’re getting into my car to run errands. Suegra points to my shoes, outraged.

“White socks! You said no white socks with black shoes! Why are you wearing white socks?!”

I look at her confused, look down at my shoes, and then back at her.

“I’m not wearing white socks,” I said. “That’s my skin.”

Maybe a little time in the sunshine wouldn’t hurt.

Lucky Soap, Chicken Bones & more

The most recent superstitious thing Suegra has brought into the house is this soap. She got this in El Salvador for Carlos.

The soap is supposed to bring you luck in whatever you need luck in, (in our case, dinero.) Carlos said he wasn’t sure he believed in it but proceeded to lather up anyway.

When I laughed at him, Carlos tried rubbing it on me.

“Hey, you better watch where you rub that,” I said.
“Why?”
“Well, I don’t know how it works but what if whichever body part you rub it on is the one that brings in money?” I said.

Carlos stopped rubbing the lucky soap on me after that.

Usually, I try not to laugh at things like this – I try to be respectful of other people’s beliefs, but some of them seem very strange and even silly, (though Suegra and Carlos think I have equally weird beliefs sometimes.)

Here are just a few of the beliefs I’ve encountered over the years while living with two Salvadorans.

Voodoo?

I actually prefer the “silly” beliefs because the alternative is disturbing ones like the time I believe she tried to put a curse on me. I will never forget the time Suegra angrily moved out of our house. During that year that we were “disowned” I was cleaning the house and happened upon something which quite frankly kind of freaked me out.

When I dusted the top of the doorbell box high on the wall, I knocked something down. Whatever it was, it clattered to the floor. I reached down to pick it up and knew immediately that Suegra had something to do with it. It was a chicken bone and I really don’t know why she put it there. She may have put it there as a blessing on the house when we were on good terms – or, more likely, she may have put it there as a curse when she left. I still haven’t asked because I don’t want to stir up anything with her.

The reason I suspect Suegra is the one who put the chicken bone up there is because it’s just too strange for there to be any other explanation. After all, I already know some of her other beliefs, and this wouldn’t even be the strangest. For example, I know that there was a woman Carlos was involved with before he came to the United States. Suegra hated this woman and she told Carlos to stay away from her, but he wouldn’t. This is when Suegra became convinced that this woman had cast a spell on him by putting his photo in her underwear.

Luck & Wealth

Speaking of underwear, I mentioned before that she wears her own underwear inside out for luck.

When one of the children accidentally puts their shirt on inside out, Suegra announces that it’s “Día de San Antonio” and this is also good luck.

Rue plants likewise bring good luck.

A lot of her superstitions revolve around attracting good luck/money and discouraging bad luck/loss of money. She chides me for sweeping in the evening, (the household will lose money.)

Magnets, on the other hand, attract luck/money.

Health

Beliefs that don’t fall into the luck/money category, usually fall into the health category. She avoids quick changes in temperature. If she has been using her sewing machine she says her muscles are “hot” and so she won’t reach into the freezer to retrieve anything – (she has me do it instead.)

Carlos is also this way to some degree though he never explained it. When we first got married he’d come home from work and though he loves to be clean, he would always wait awhile before taking a shower – saying he wanted to rest first. Later I realized that this was part of that same belief. And now that I think about it, I wonder if when Carlos’s Mexican co-workers advised him not to have sex with the ceiling fan on, perhaps the hot/cold thinking is also why they believe that.

Other medical issues – “Empacho” is a gastrointestinal problem which Suegra believes can lead to death. She gets very worried about feeling bloated and will do everything from massaging herself to brewing various concoctions to cure it.

Sometimes Suegra also complains of having air trapped in the body. I don’t know if this has scientific merit or not. I don’t know if it has a specific name but she’ll say “tengo aire” before pounding a fist against her back in an attempt to clear it out.

Other oddities

Suegra believes that if you point at a rainbow, you’ll make it disappear. Also, you should not watch a dog pooping or it will cause a sty on your eye.

Have you heard of “Tapa Boca” candles, or “Shut up” candles? If someone is gossiping about you, you light it and by the time it burns out, the person will be forced to stop talking about you. There are dozens of other similar candles for every imaginable problem as well.

In the end, living with Carlos and Suegra all these years has caused some of their creencías to rub off on me.

If the palm of my hand becomes itchy, my first thought is that I will soon come into money. And, if my ears are ringing, I assume someone is talking about me so I bite the tip of my tongue.

No matter how angry I get at someone though, I will not hide a chicken bone in their house.

Links:

A blog post about hot/cold beliefs