I Say Autobus, You Say Guagua
The following conversation recently took place at our dinner table:
Papá: ¿Lo quieres con aguacate? – wanting to know if Vanessa wanted a tortilla chip with some avocado.
Papá, realizing aguacate is not the word Vanessa knows for avocado: ¿Lo quieres con palta?
Vanessa: Papá, ¿qué dijite? – Huh?
Vanessa: ¿Qué eso?
Papá: Es lo mismo que palta.
The wheels of my daughter’s brain start turning as she tries to process what just happened. Palta is the same thing as aguacate. Just another name for it.
And then my husband goes on to explain that there is only one country in the world that calls an avocado a palta. It’s not true, but w-h-a-t-e-v-e-r. That one country happens to be Peru, the one I hail from, so that’s all that matters.
All kidding aside, though, this is an actual topic of debate in our house. My husband, who was born and raised in Puerto Rico, taught Vanessa to say ‘bobo‘ (binky) and I had to give in because as a baby, that was an easier word for Vane to pick up than ‘chupón‘ – as we say it in Perú.
Unlike English which has variances depending on whether you’re British, North American or Australian; Spanish has as many variances as the countries where it’s spoken. In other words, the word for pig, for example, could be chancho, cerdo or puerco – depending on which country you’re from (Perú, México, Puerto Rico – respectively). Oh, yeah, I forgot marrano.
Here’s a partial list of the Peruvian vsPuerto Rican words in our house:
timón/guia — steering wheel
plátano/guineo (we actually use banana – kind of universal, no?)
poto/nalgas — butt
calata/desnuda — naked
arete/pantalla — earring
foco/bombilla — lightbulb
basurero (tacho)/zafacón — trash can
paraguas/sombrilla — umbrella
naranja/china — orange
autobus/guagua — bus
The list goes on… And I haven’t even included the dozens of words which are completely innocuous for some of us but are vulgarities for others. Such as bicho which means any type of insect for Peruvians and lots of other Latin Americans, but the crude name for male genitals for Boricuas, like my husband. I find it kind of crazy that I can’t tell Vanessa “Cuidado con ese bicho,” if there’s an insect near where she’s playing.
What to do? Apparently, nothing. I can do it, but it doesn’t come naturally. The interesting thing is that now that she’s a bit older and has started to figure a lot of things out, she actually likes to ask: ¿tú cómo lo llamas? – which I find utterly amazing.
Roxana Soto is a journalist, mother of two and co-founder of Spanglishbaby, a website for raising bilingual and bi-cultural children. She is a Peruvian native who lives in Colorado.
This post originally appeared in a different version at SpanglishBaby.