29 January 2009

Águila o Sol

In Mexico the phrase “águila o sol” meaning “eagle or sun” is the equivalent of the English phrase “heads or tails”. There has traditionally been an eagle on one side of the Mexican coins for many, many years. At various times the opposite side of the coin has carried the ancient symbol of a phrygian cap which is a soft, red, conical cap with the top pulled forward that represents represents freedom and the pursuit of liberty in old sculptures, caricatures, and paintings. The phrygian cap has been imprinted on certain Mexican coins through the late 19th century into the mid 20th century and it is usually depicted with a bunch of rays emanating from behind it. Thus it can easily be mistaken for a caricature of the sun. One of the most popular coins depicting “aguila o sol” was the bronze 20 centavo coin that was minted from 1943 to 1955 and remained in circulation long after. You can see a picture of this coin below. On the “tails” side you can see the phrygian cap or “sol” with the rays behind it above the sun pyramid of Teotihuacan. This is also the coin that was used for many years to place a local call in a Mexican public telephone. The operator would wait to hear the coin fall in the slot before making the connection. Sometimes the coin didn't fall right into the slot and when it finally did the operator would say :

“Ya me cayó el veinte”.
Okay, now I heard the twenty drop.

This phrase eventually became part of the Mexican vernacular and came to mean “Oh, now I get it!”.

The phrase for “flip a coin” is “echar un volado”. My wife Gina and I use this phrase all the time. On the days when the garbage men come I will say:

“Uno de nosotros necesita sacar la basura. Vamos echar un volado”.
One of us needs to take out the trash. Let's flip a coin.

We flip the coin and I almost always lose. I think that is because she always does the flipping. I don't know if she uses a trick coin, or if she is really good at flipping coins, or if she is just plain lucky. Lately when I suggest that we flip a coin she says:

"Ya eché un volado y tu perdiste. ¡Saca la basura!"
I already flipped a coin and you lost. Take out the trash!

The other day I overheard a dialog with the phrase “echar un volado” and it went like this:

Alejandro: Tengo mucha sed.
I am very thirsty.

José: Yo también. Quiero un refresco.
Me too. I want a soda.

Paco: ¿Ustedes tienen dinero?
Do you guys have money?

José: No, pero allí viene Raul. Él siempre trae dinero.
No, but here comes Raul. He always has money.

Alejandro: Oye Raul, José y Paco echaron un volado y tu perdiste. Te toca a ti para comprar los refrescos.
Hey Raul, José and Paco flipped a coin and you lost. It is your turn to buy sodas.

Raul: !Óyeme no¡ ¡Olvidate guey!
No way. Forget about it man!

27 January 2009

Pena y Dolor

Today I had to go to the city of León, Guanajuato to visit a government office and deal with an official of the bureaucracy. This is generally not a pleasant activity no matter what country you live in. Fortunately my papers were “in order” and after about six months of my file being sent to Mexico City and scrutinized, digested, and mellowed by laying around in a pile on somebody's desk, the matter will be resolved...maybe. Even the Lord Jesus Christ discovered during His relatively short time on Earth that government officials can be a real pain. I am reminded of a popular little ditty that is making the rounds called the “Workman's Prayer”. I will paraphrase it a little bit to keep it wholesome:

¡Oh Señor, Señor, Señor!
Mándame pena y dolor;
Mándame males añejos.
Pero lidiar con tontos
¡No me lo mandes, Señor!

Oh Lord, Lord, Lord!
Send me grief and pain;
Send me ancient plagues.
But to deal with fools
Don't send me, Lord!

However, there is also a Mexican saying that goes:

No hay mal que por bien no venga.
There isn't any bad that doesn't bring some good.

The distasteful place where I had to go happens to be right next door to one of the best panaderías (bakeries) in Mexico called “Pastelería La Poupée”. The word “poupée” means “doll” in French. I think my friend Joe Pastry would have a field day in this place. They make every kind of cookie, cake, and pastry that you can imagine. If you ever go to León and you have a chance to visit La Poupée it will be well worth the effort. There are two locations. One is at Ave. Roma #908 in La Colonia Andrade and the other is at Pasaje Catedral #127 in Zona Central (in front of the Cathedral). They also have a page on the Internet where you can look at the goodies and drool:


21 January 2009

Panzaverdes, Freseros, Y Tuzos

I had an interesting discussion with Señor Jordan the other day. If you aren't already familiar with him then you should get to know him. He is a young Spanish teacher and the author of the excellent “Señor Jordan's Spanish Video Blog”. He mentioned the word “Panzaverdes” and “Momias” in reference to the people who live in the City of Guanajuato in the state of the same name. Since I live only about twenty five miles from that city I consider myself a “quasi” expert and therefore I felt empowered enough to correct him. The word “Panzaverde” or “green belly” usually refers to someone from the nearby City of León. The area around León is well known for the cultivation of things like lettuce, broccoli, and all sorts of other green vegetables. In particular the farmers grow romaine lettuce which is called “lechuga orejona”, the word “lechuga” meaning “lettuce” and “orejona” referring to “long ears”. As far as the City of Guanajuato is concerned...well the city is famous for its “momias” or mummies of course, but the traditional name for the people is “Tuzos”. This refers to a little rodent-like animal who burrows in the hillsides that surround the town called a “tuza llanera”. The scientific name is “Pappogeomys tylorhinus” and the English name is “Naked-Nosed Pocket Gopher”.

Most Mexican cities and towns have one or more nicknames for either the town or the inhabitants or both. The people of the city that I live in, Irapuato are sometimes called “Irapuatenses” and sometimes “Freseros” which means “strawberries” because traditionally Irapuato was considered to be the Strawberry Capital of the World. The people from nearby Silao are called “Catarinos” and the people from Salamanca are called “Salmantinos”. The people from Celaya are often referred to as “Cajeteros” after the wonderful candy called “cajeta” that they produce. The bloggers from San Miguel de Allende would never forgive me if I failed to mention that they are known as “San Miguelenses”. The people of Aguascalientes are “Calientes Hidrocaldos” and in San Luis Potosí we have “Potosinos”. Guadalajara gives us “Tapatíos”, “ Los Queretanos” come from Queretaro and in Morelia we have “Morelianos”. The people from the City of Monterey are “Regiomontanos” and the people from Puebla are “Poblanos.

There is an interesting nickname for the people of Mexico City. They call themselves “Chilangos” and they call Mexico City "Chilangolandia". They also think that they are the only ones who can rightfully use these terms and consider that any non-Chilango who uses these names is looking for trouble. The Mexican people in general tend to view Mexico City dwellers as "different" and more competitive (pushy), selfish, arrogant, less honest and more manipulative. For this reason when a fast moving car with plates from the District Federal (D.F.) or “Deh Efeh” cuts me off I am more likely to call them a “defequillo”. The word “defequillo” is a play on words with “DF” and the word “defecar”, “to defecate”. I am just going to let you guess what “defequillo” means and Mexico City itself I call “El Defectuoso”.

One more thing...in case I left out the name for the city or the people where you live please let me know so I can keep my young friend Señor Jordan from going astray.


18 January 2009

By the dawn's early light...

There is a new day dawning in America and by the dawn's early light it looks promising. We have been struggling with unrest and have been plagued with nightmares. Today, along with countless millions of other Americans I offer a prayer for our country and our new president. As a young man growing up in Chicago there were a number of things that I never expected to see in my lifetime. I never expected to see a Polish Pope, I never expected to see lights go up at Wrigley Field, I never expected to see the fall of both the Iron and Bamboo Curtains, and I never expected to see a person of color become the President of the United States. I hope and I pray that this man can bring us together as a nation and lead us to a brighter tomorrow. He is my leader and I shall follow him. I remember as a schoolboy we used watch Captain Kangaroo on television and sing:

"We're following the leader, the leader, the leader,
We're following the leader wherever he may go.

We won't be home 'til morning, 'til morning, 'til morning,

We won't be home 'til morning, our leader told us so.

The morning that we will come home to is a morning full of hope and the realization that America still has the potential for a wonderful future in store for ourselves and our progeny and it is for us to get behind our leader and make it so.

I am also reminded of one of my favorite quotes from “Ulysses” by Alfred Lord Tennyson:

"Come, my friends.
'Tis not too late to seek a newer world.
Push off, and sitting well in order smite

The sounding furrows; for my purpose holds

To sail beyond the sunset, and the baths

Of all the western stars, until I die."

Won't it be wonderful when the people of the United States of America seek a newer world and can rid themselves of the shadow of division and racism which has hung over our nation for such a long time and we can embrace each other as equals in our own eyes as well as those of the Lord. We will then be truly “Free at Last!” like in the dream of Martin Luther King.

Thank God Almighty!

17 January 2009

Learning Spanish with Bart and Archie

When I first came to Mexico and was desperate to learn Spanish as fast as I could I discovered once I got past the basics that reading comics could be a big help. I started out by reading the comics in the Sunday newspaper when I lived near Monterrey but I soon learned that there are comic books available in Spanish that feature characters that I have long been familiar with. My favorite Spanish comic book is “Archie Comics” because I am very familiar with Archie, Betty, Jughead, and Veronica due to my misspent youth. The thing about the comics is that they use a common vernacular that is more or less every day street Spanish. Let's face it, most comic books are pretty simple. They aren't designed to be read by rocket scientists and brain surgeons. Nevertheless they can be quite challenging for non native speakers depending upon the amount of slang and idiomatic expressions that they contain. That is really the best feature though. It is a quick way to discover slang and idiomatic expressions that average people use all the time in their day to day conversations. Thus, if you want to understand young people who are at least literate but perhaps a bit under motivated then Archie and Jughead (especially Jughead) may be able to help you. You will probably find that need some assistance understanding some of the slang used but the pictures help and they can give you a general idea of what is going on. To begin with you can find a complete Archie comic in Spanish to read online at: http://www.archiecomics.com/

[edit] Here is a more direct link for the Spanish version:
Actually it is a bit tricky to find from the home page. You have to click on "Comics" and then click on "Foreign Language Comics" on the rack in the cartoon bookstore.

There are lot's of other comic books besides Archie to read. Some of my other favorites are “Gasparín (Casper the Friendly Ghost), “El Pájaro Loco (Woody Woodpecker), and “Riqui Ricón” (Richie Rich). You can find examples of these and many more online at: http://www.mundovid.com/

Whenever I pass a news stand I always look for comic books but sometimes you have to ask the news stand vendor “¿Hay comics?” (¿Ay COH-meeks?) and he or she will reach down and bring up a stack of assorted comics. I think they keep them out of sight because kids tend to walk off with them without paying. They generally sell for about twenty pesos each. My latest find is a Bart Simpson comic entitled “¿Bart en Apuros!” or in other words “Bart in trouble” or “Bart in a fix”. Bart, being a contemporary kid, might be a bit more challenging to read than Casper or Richie Rich. There is another famous but controversial comic book in Mexico that you may have seen or heard about called “Memín Pinguín”. This comic book is controversial because it features a mischievous black Cuban boy who has been around since about 1940 and although the character is well loved by the Mexican people there are others in the world, especially in the United States, who deem it quite racist. Personally I just leave it alone and think that it will just fade away eventually. Besides that, the dialog contains so much contemporary “hip” slang as to be unnecessary for beginning and intermediate students of Spanish.

Now if you are really serious about learning Spanish, especially Mexican Spanish, then get out there and look around for some Spanish comic books. If your spouse or one of your friends start to question you on your choice of reading material or your sanity just tell them that you are doing your homework. It will probably be the best homework assignment that you ever received. I just wish that they could have put arithmetic in a comic book. Maybe then I would have had better report cards.

14 January 2009

Time off...

I made a list of the major holidays in Mexico for 2009. Most people in Mexico get time off from work on these dates and many businesses are closed. Mexico is starting to follow the U.S. custom of celebrating non-religious national holidays in conjunction with a weekend so that people can have three days off from work. The people call these three consecutive days off at a weekend "un puente" or "a bridge". Where I work, the people usually work a half day on Saturday so when we have a "puente" they make up that time by working a full Saturday either the week before or the week after. Fortunately I don't have to work Saturdays anymore. When I had my sixtieth birthday my boss granted me Saturdays off from that day forward as a birthday present. I really appreciate that. Nice man! I get three weeks vacation also which I hardly ever take. Hmmm, maybe that is where the Saturdays off come from. Anyway, as you can see, this year we have seven "puentes". Hooray!!!

Here is the list. Note that the traditional date is given as well as the "puente" date:

Thursday, Jan 1 - New Year's Day (Año nuevo)

Monday, Feb 2 (Traditional Feb 5) - Anniversary 1917 Constitution
(Constitución Politica Mexicana de 1917)

Monday, Mar 16 (Traditional Mar 21) - Benito Juarez' Birthday
(Natalicio de Don Benito Juárez)

Thursday, Apr 9 - Holy Thursday (Jueves Santo)

Friday, Apr 10 - Good Friday (Viernes Santo)

Friday, May 1 - Labor Day (Día del Trabajo)

Wednesday, Sep 16 - Independence Day
(Día de la Independencia de Mexico)

Monday, Nov 2 - All Saint's Day (El Día de los Muertos)

Monday, Nov 16 (Traditional Nov 20) - Anniversary Revolution
(Aniversario de la Revolución Mexicana)

Saturday, Dec 12 - Our Lady of Guadalupe
(Día de Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe)

Friday, Dec 25 - Christmas Day (El Día deNavidad)

Interesting note: The Mexican Constitutions of 1824 and 1857 were both called "Constitución Federal de los Estados Unidos Mexicanos" and the current Constitution of 1917 is called "Constitución Política de los Estados Unidos Mexicanos". I wonder why they changed the word "Federal" to "Politica". That is something that I will have to investigate further. Like Sarah Palin told Katie Couric..."Let me get back to you on that".


12 January 2009

The fat look...

There is an interesting Spanish phrase that is fairly common and I thought I would share it with you in case it might come in handy some day. The phrase is "Hacer de la vista gorda". You may sometimes hear it without the "de" as in "Hacer la vista gorda" and it is also sometimes used in a reflexive manner as in "Hacerse de la vista gorda". It literally translates as "To make with the fat look". It means "to purposely overlook, or "to ignore" or "to give it a blind eye to".

I will sometimes say to a worker who does a rather poor job of something:

"Pues, esta vez voy a hacer de la vista gorda pero no quiero verte repetir.
Well, this time I am going to overlook it but I don't want to see you do it again.

I might also say something like:

"Si no traes puesto tu casco no esperes que voy a hacer de la vista gorda y tu vas a evitar un regaño".
If you don't wear your hard hat don't expect that I am going to look the other way and that you are going to avoid a reprimand.

Here is a tongue in cheek example that fits a lot of people:

No me gustan la injusticia, la corrupción, la trampa, etc., pero por 100 pesos estoy dispuesto a hacer de la vista gorda.
I don't like injustice, corruption, or tricks, etcetera, but for 100 pesos I am disposed to look the other way.

Some day you might break a traffic rule (Heaven forbid) and so you might try this when talking to the nice policeman:

Oficial, ¿Puede por esta vez hacerse de la vista gorda?
Officer, for this once could you look the other way?

He might frown and pull out his notebook and act like he is getting ready to write you a ticket. Then you could say:

Oficial, ayúdame porfa. Voy de mucha prisa a mi trabajo. Yo le doy el dinero para que usted pague mi infracción y no necesita darme un recibo. Recuerda los caballeros no tenemos memoria.
Officer, please help me. I am in a hurry to get to work. I will give you the money so that you can pay my fine and I don't need a receipt. Remember that us gentlemen don't remember". (In other words...this never happened)

Ooops! What happens if he takes you to see the judge? Then you start all over again:

Su Señoria, ¿no puede usted hacerse de la vista gorda?
Your Honor, can't you overlook this?

About now all the ladies will ask, "Okay, Bob, but what if you are a woman?" I don't know ladies. At this point you are on your own. I would suggest that you start crying. That always seems to work.


09 January 2009

Quiero mi pilón.

There is a very interesting word in Mexican Spanish called a “pilón” (pee-LOHN). Basically it means about the same thing as the thirteenth donut in a “baker's dozen”. It is something extra that the merchant gives to show his appreciation for a customer's patronage. The pilón can come in many forms. It can be a piece of candy for the child who goes to the store for his mother to buy a loaf of bread or some milk. It is often just an extra handful of beans or an extra tomato tossed in the bag after the merchant has already weighed the purchase on the scale. Mexicans, like people the world over, are always in search of something for free. Thus the tradition of the pilón is very effective in generating loyalty. People will always tend to gravitate to the merchant who gives a pilón. Nowadays globalization, modernization, and standard packaging is putting an end to this sacred bond between vendor and customer. Nevertheless, my local Walmart usually has some places in the store where you can grab a little piece of cake, a slice of ham, a bit of fruit, or some corn chips and still feel that you are a winner without feeling the guilt of actually pilfering.

The origin of the word “pilón” is a bit mysterious. I think that the word has a jumble of origins. The first thing that comes to mind is that it is short for the word “piloncillo” (pee-lohn-SEE-yoh)) which is a “little cone” of raw sugar that is extracted from sugar cane. It is shaped like the top of a mountain and perhaps it it the tip of the mountain or “something on the top” that the merchant adds to the “hill of beans” in the sack. The word pilón is also the same as the English word for “pylon”. The technical term for the shape of a pylon is a “frustum” which is a truncated cone or pyramid in which the plane cutting off the apex is parallel to the base. A good example of a conical “frustum” or “truncated cone” is the orange traffic cones that you see on the highway when there is construction going on. Another example, a “pyramidal frustum”, may be seen on the reverse of the Great Seal of the United States on the back of the U.S. one-dollar bill. The pyramid" is a “truncated pyramid” with the "Eye of Providence" in the tip above it. Some people say that the word pilón comes from the drop weights that hang from steelyard scales because they are in the shape of a pylon. Well, yes, perhaps, but they are also often pear shaped or tear shaped or shaped like a closed pine cone, etcetera.

Now, here is where it gets really interesting...and a bit complicated. In French a “pilon” is a “column” or “pestle” as in “mortar and pestle” and in Cuba and Puerto Rico a mortar and pestle are together referred to as a “pilón”. They come in all sizes and are used in making everything from “mofongo” to grinding coffee beans to crushing sugar cane. In Spanish a “martillo pilón” is a drop hammer or pile driver The word “pilón” is also used for big stone troughs into which water runs from a pipe as in horse troughs or the bases of fountains. It is related to the word “pila” which means “font” as in “baptismal font”. This is not to be confused with the other “pila” which means a “battery cell” of the type you put in your flashlight or camera as opposed to the battery in your car which is called an “acumulador” or “storage battery”. Confused yet? Well, that makes two of us. Isn't Spanish fun? Hey, wait, we aren't quite done yet. In Central America and the Caribbean there is a tree called Suradan Pilon (Hyeronima laxiflora) which is a hardwood tree with wood of a reddish chocolate color that grows very straight and tall like a column. It is commonly referred to much of the time as simply, "pilón". In the French language, the bottom end of your tibia or "shin bone" is called a pilon and carries the meaning of "ram" as in "ramrod". Not only that but in some Spanish speaking countries, Ecuador for example, a freebie is called a "yapa" of "llapa". In Spain and other countries it is sometimes called called a "ñapa". This comes from the French word "lagniappe" which means "a little something extra" and it is my understanding that the French speaking people of Louisiana still use the word lagniappe.

Well, there you have it folks. That's probably more than you ever want to or need to know about the possible origins of the word "pilón". However, you are now in the "in crowd". The next time that you go to the market and buys some beans and tomatoes or onions from one of the little old ladies and as she is just about to close the bag you say with a smile, "¿Y mi pilón?...Quiero mi pilón" and I´ll bet that she tosses in another little something and gives you a quick smile. From then on she will know that you are an "insider" and you two will be buddies. Good luck and have fun.

08 January 2009

Something enjoyable...

I learned about this from a good friend in Australia named Mike Lean. The link is to a slide show that covers the past 50 years set to the Billy Joel classic "We Didn't Start the Fire". It runs for about 3 minutes. The more pictures you remember, the older you are. If you have the time just turn up the volume and sit back. I guarantee that this will bring back memories, especially for the 55 and over crowd.


NOTE: Thanks to Billy Joel and some guy from the University of Chicago with a lot of spare time, Wikipedia, and Google. Top left gives you full screen....top right lets you pause. Bottom left shows the year.

04 January 2009

My Epiphany

Today, the 6th of January, is the Feast of the Epiphany or the Feast of the Three Kings. On this day I have been living in Mexico for exactly ten years. It is the tenth anniversary of my arrival but it is also the tenth anniversary of my own personal epiphany. Mexico has changed my life in ways that I never dreamed it would and the decision to make my home here has turned out to be one of the best decisions that I have ever made. I owe a great deal of thanks to the people of this great nation for making me feel welcome and treating me so kindly. There have been quite a few changes taking place in this country during the time that I have been here and as far as I am concerned most of those changes are for the better. I am very proud of the Mexican people and am excited for them over the prospect of even better things to come. I went back to my journal to see what I had written on that first day and I remember that even getting here was quite an adventure. Looking back on it I get the feeling that fate was on my side and even the fiercest winter storm couldn't keep me from my destiny.

My adventure began on the evening of January 5th at the beginning of the end of the last century. I had been planning an extended trip to the Monterrey, Mexico area for several months. By the time the Christmas holidays came around I was really pumped up and ready to go. For several weeks I had been cramming my head full of Spanish vocabulary (much of it wrong as it turned out) and I was good and ready to fly. The holiday season seemed to drag on interminably. When New Year's Eve finally rolled around I could only think, "Come on, let's get on with it!" Then "it" happened. "It" turned out to be what would later be called the "Blizzard of 99". A powerful winter storm blasted the Chicago area on the first two days of 1999. All across Northern Illinois the storm raged, dumping anywhere from nine to twenty-two inches of snow on the holiday traffic. The wind blew out of the northeast and it gusted well over thirty miles per hour causing considerable blowing and drifting. In Chicagoland, the northeast winter wind has a name. It is known as the "Hawk" and everyone who has spent a winter in Chicago at one time or another has felt its claws. On this occasion the claws of the Hawk clamped down hard.

The New Year's storm set a Chicago record for the most snowfall in a single calendar day. Almost nineteen inches were recorded by the official weather reporting station at O'Hare Airport on Saturday, January second. As if the snow and the wind weren't bad enough the temperature began to fall steadily. By Tuesday the fifth, the day I was hoping to leave for sunny Mexico, the temperature fell to more than ten below zero (Fahrenheit). It felt even colder because of the wind chill. My flight wasn't scheduled to leave until six thirty in the evening. When I arrived at the airport conditions looked grim. It had been shut down during the height of the storm which is rather unusual for O'Hare. Chicago prided itself in having "the world's busiest airport" and O'Hare has to be open around the clock day in and day out to handle the 2500 or more scheduled flights on any given day. During this blizzard, however, everything came to a halt and many travelers had been stranded at the airport over the weekend. By noon on Tuesday some semblance of order had been restored but there was still the Hawk to deal with. My departure was touch and go for several hours.

The main problems were the cold and the wind. The unfortunate but valiant men and women of American Airlines, whose job it was to service the planes, were suffering terribly and could only remain outdoors for short periods. The airplanes had to be sprayed with de-icing solution before they could take off and the people who had to spray them with de-icer must have been super human. I felt pangs of guilt about what they had to go through so that we could fly. I really appreciate the efforts of the people behind the scenes who suffered physically so that my journey that day could be possible. The fact that I left Chicago on one of the coldest and windiest days of the year only heightened my sense of adventure. Once we finally took off about ten thirty in the evening, the three hour flight to Monterrey was relatively uneventful. I alternately read and dozed my way through the flight and as we made our approach to the Monterrey airport our pilot announced that the outside temperature was in the mid sixties. What a relief! I realized how miraculous it was that in just three hours I had been able to change my environment by going to a place where the air temperature was seventy five degrees higher than at the place I had left. It was a vivid reminder of the technology that we sometimes take for granted. I never appreciated technology more than I did that night.

Monterrey, Mexico is a very cosmopolitan city and it has a modern, gleaming airport. For those who have never been to Monterrey it is a nice surprise. For those who have been there before it is a nice welcome. I had brought a great deal of luggage with me and I was dreading the thought of a tedious customs search at one thirty in the morning. Fortunately for me the Mexican customs officials must have thought the same thing and they kindly waved me by. It wasn't long before I was whisked away through the streets of Monterrey and promptly deposited with my bags at the front desk of the Radisson Ancira Hotel in the heart of the downtown area. It is one of the oldest and most comfortable hotels in Monterrey. I wasted no time in getting to bed and there was no time for dreaming either. The last thing I remember was my head hitting the pillow and the next thing I knew, it was the morning of the Epiphany...and my epiphany as well.

As it turned out I was totally prepared for what would be required of me in terms of technical assistance to the people who hired me but what I was unprepared for was the capture of my heart by Mexico and her people. From the very beginning I went through a change in my outlook on life and by now I am a totally a different person, and I hope a better person. Mexico is a land of contrasts; ancient and new, crowded and empty, wet and dry, hot and cold, fertile and barren, colorful and drab, rich and poor. There is one thing that Mexico is not, however, and that is the stereotype that most Americans have about Mexico and her people. One of the reoccurring themes in my conversations with the people of Mexico was how little the average American actually knows about their country and it is evident by the reaction of many Americans who visit for the first time. Mexicans seem very anxious that the people of the United States get to know them better and respect them for who they really are and not some image gathered from old movies. It is an old joke in Mexico that when Americans come for a visit they are expecting to see people wearing sombreros and colorful capes who either ride around on donkeys or carry clay water jars on their heads. To be sure, there is a definite Mexican flavor to life in this country but it is nowhere near the exaggerated concept that exists in the minds of many Americans. One of the reasons that I write this blog is to introduce Mexico to Americans who would like to know a bit more and who might like to come and see for themselves what a really nice place this is.

¡Como México, No Hay Dos!
There is no other place like Mexico!

03 January 2009

Dialog - Did you do your homework?

Now that the new year is here it is time for all of us who resolved to improve our Spanish to get to work. I was talking about this yesterday with the foreman of our shop, Eduardo Conejo. In English his name would be Eddie Rabbit because “conejo” means rabbit in Spanish. The Conejo family of Salamanca, Guanajuato is a very large family and the joke around here is that they are aptly named. We call Eduardo “Lalo” which is the hipocoristic (nickname) for Eduardo. Over the years he has helped me with my Spanish and I am helping him to learn English. He is doing fairly well but his family is lagging behind. His kids are studying English in school but it isn't going very well and his wife doesn't have the same desire to learn as he does. In fact she has little or no interest at all in learning English. I have seen this quite a bit and when one spouse starts learning another language the other feels pressured and a bit marginalized and this can lead to tensions in the family...any family.

Lalo and I decided that one course of action that he could try would be to make a game out of it and concentrate on just one area of English until everyone got in the groove and felt comfortable with it. We decided to start with the one area of family life where everyone enters the discussion on an almost daily basis and that is homework. I prepared the following phrases for use in a dialog and he is going to learn it with his wife and kids and whenever they talk about homework they must talk in English. He is going to try and make this a fun game for the whole family to participate in and see if he can draw his wife into it enough so that she feels comfortable. Perhaps little by little they can branch out from there without anyone feeling that they have been left behind. I am sharing this dialog with my readers in case someone out there would like to practice their Spanish with us. The phrases pretty much stand by themselves or you can mix and match them. Have fun and be nice. I am willing to bet that you hear the echo of your own parents in the words because that is where I got them. They are the echos of my Mom and Dad that still linger in my ear.

¿Qué te dejaron de tarea?
What did they give you for homework?

Déjame verlo.
Let me see it.

Muéstrame tu tarea.
Show me your homework.

A ver. Si es de matemáticas y si tienes alguna duda puedo ayudarte.
Let's see. If it is math and if you have doubts about it I can help you.

¿Para cuando es tu tarea?
When is your homework due?

¿Ya hiciste tu tarea?
Did you do your homework already?

¿Estás haciendo tu tarea?
Are you doing your homework?

¿Por qué no hiciste tu tarea?
Why didn’t you do your homework?

¿Por qué no estás haciendo tu tarea?
Why aren’t you doing your homework?

Después de hacer tu tarea puedes jugar.
After you do your homework you can play.

Tu tarea está mal.
Your homework is no good.

Házla de nuevo.
Do it over again.

¡Ten más cuidado con tu tarea!
Be more careful with your homework!

Concéntrate en lo que estás haciendo, fíjate bien.
Concentrate on what you are doing, pay attention.

La letra esta horrible, no se entiende nada.
The writing is very bad. It can't be understood.

¡Estos números no son correctos!
These numbers are not correct!

No voy a hacer tu tarea para ti.
I’m not going to do your homework for you.

Ponte a trabajar. La tarea no se hace sola.
Get to work. Your homework isn’t going to get done by itself.

¿Qué dijo tu maestro(a) de tu tarea?
What did your teacher say about your homework?

Muy bien. Sacaste un 10 en tu tarea, felicidades.
Very good. You earned an excellent (100%) on your homework. Congratulations.

Si haces tu tarea, después de llegar de la escuela, no tendrás problemas para tu examen semestral y final.
If you do your homework right after you get home from school you won't have problems on your semester and final exams.

Ya que tienes el conocimiento fresco y lo reforzaste con tu tarea, tendrás tiempo de descansar y jugar un rato.
Now that the material is fresh in your mind and you reinforced it with homework you will have time to rest and play awhile.

Recuerda hijo(a), cumplir con tus tareas siempre y sacar buenas calificaciones. Ese es tu trabajo.
Remember son (or daughter) to always complete your homework and get good grades. This is your job.

01 January 2009

Oops...There really is a Frugalista!

I just found out that there really is a "Frugalista". She is a is a journalist and her name is Natalie P. McNeal. She has a wonderful blog called The Frugalista Files which has been featured on CNN, NPR and CBS-4. It has also been mentioned by The New York Times, The Financial Times, and the Miami Herald. I encourage everyone to check it out. After all, like Benjamin Franklin said, "A penny saved is a penny earned". Who can argue with a guy who has his picture on the hundred dollar bill?

Natalie, I really didn't mean to step on your toes. I think the Devil made me do it. Perdóneme, por favor. Oh oh...I hope that doesn't make me a stoopnagle.


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About Me

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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.