11 December 2009

Answer me cheerily...

I remember a stanza from a poem by one of my favorite poet authors, Douglas Malloch and...

Si mal no me acuerdo,
If I remember correctly,

or alternatively,

Si mal no recuerdo,
If I don't remember wrong,

or even,

Si mi memoria no me falla,
If my memory doesn't fail me,

the first few lines of the poem go something like this:

I said to a worker way down in a ditch,
"You labor exceedingly hard,
And in fact in a manner alarming,
Which I with apprehension regard.
Oh, why do you do it,
Oh, why never pause?"
I asked with a bit of a frown.
He answered me cheerily,
"Merely because,
I have to keep pumping or drown".

Sometimes we complain to our friends and neighbors about things like the rising cost of living and the declining value of our money or perhaps we moan about power failures or water failures or the garbage men don't pick up the trash. There doesn't seem much that we can do about it (short term) except to look at each other, shrug our shoulders, and say, "Yeah, well, whataya gonna do?" and the only answer to that, of course, is "Ya gotta do whatcha gotta do".

There is a way to say the same thing in Spanish. When someone complains about something that they have no control over, they or another person will say:

Pues, ni modo, aquí nos tocó vivir.
Well, there's nothing we can do about it, here is where we were destined to live.

The translation above is more of a transliteration than a literal translation. The verb "tocar" can mean "to touch", or "to play", as in "to play the guitar", or "to take" as in "take a turn", or "to feel", etcetera. The phrase "Aquí nos tocó vivir" (ah-KEY nohs toh-COH vee-VEER), can be used in many ways but it is always spoken or written the same way. It doesn't matter if one or two people are talking or if one is talking about where he or she lives or where they work, or where they go to school and so forth. It is always "Aquí nos tocóco vivir" as in "this where we were put" or "this is my destiny" or whatever. The phrase "Pues, ni modo" or just plain "Ni modo" is optional but it can also be used by itself to mean "Well, whataya gonna do?" or in the case without the word "pues", just plain "Whataya gonna do?" and is usually accompanied by a shrug of the shoulders (un encogimiento de hombros). You can also tack on "No hay otra opción" (There is no other option).

So, the next time you are standing in the street and chatting with your Mexican friends or neighbors and someone starts to complain about something that will never change, just shrug your shoulders and answer them cheerily, "Pues, ni modo, aquí nos tocó vivir". I guarantee that they will all smile and nod their heads in agreement and marvel at how well your Spanish is coming along. Someone will no doubt also say, "Tienes mucha razón. Haz lo que pueda, no hay otra opción" (You are so right, just do what you can and that's all you can do).



glorv1 said...

....and that is exactly what I do every day. I do what I can and that's all I can do.Nice post, I really like this one. Have a great weekend. Take care.

Leah Flinn said...

thanks for the Spanish lesson - I am sure an opportunity will arise for me to try this.

YayaOrchid said...

Very good language lesson! Funny how we all say the same thing even when in a foreign langauge.

Rodney said...

Great post Bob, I've never that before, although I have heard "no hay otra opción", but it was an abbreviated version, "no hay otra". Is that common to use this abbreviated version as well?

Thanks, and keep up the great work.

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I was born and raised in Chicago, Illinois, U.S.A. I have been living in Mexico since January 6th, 1999. I am continually studying to improve my knowledge of the Spanish language and Mexican history and culture. I am also a student of Mandarin Chinese.