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Childhood memories are vivid, almost indescribable in their detail, and impossible to forget. A Christmas memory I have is that of a black velvet dress  a family friend gave to me for my seventh Christmas.
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Monkeys and Chickens

Submitted by on October 26, 2009 – 11:41 am6 Comments

We write a lot here on the Tiki Tiki about our cultural tendency to translate literally and so wind up with a delicious mish-mash of Spanglish.

My English speaking kids sometimes find themselves at odds with their Spanish speaking grandmother. Both sides try to understand the other, but sometimes the results are pretty hilarious.

My son, Adam is a handsome guy. (Okay, I know I’m his mom and all that, but I am being truly objective here. Shut up.) And even though he’s not fluent in Spanish, he can defend himself pretty well for the most part.


So he was visiting my mom (his grandmother) the other day. She speaks as much English as he does Spanish. (Ay Dios mio!)

Adam to me via text: What does ‘mono’ mean?
Me in reply: Monkey.

Adam: Doesn’t ‘pollo’ mean chicken?
Me: Yes. Why do you ask?

Adam: I think she’s insulting me.
Me: She’s not insulting you. Take whatever she’s saying as a complement.
Adam: She called me a monkey and then said I was chicken.

I know there’s been something completely lost in translation, so I call my mom and ask what it was that she said to Adam.

My mom: “Nada. Lo encontre muy mono y le dije que esta hecho un pollo.”

I clarify: “Adam, she thinks you’re handsome and you look great.”
Adam: “Damn Cubans.”
Me: “I’ll just take that as a complement.” =D

(Previously posted in another form on Babalú blog.)

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  • I was assured in Chile that “gordita” was a term of endearment, but I flinched every time someone called me “fatty.”

  • Yes, we Cubans sure have some weird idioms. My mom says “se la comio” (he/she ate it) when she thinks someone has done something well. And as a kid, she would coerce me into behaving with threats that “el coco” (the coconut) would get me if I was bad. Then again, in the U.S. “cool” and “hot” are both compliments. So maybe we’re not so weird after all.

  • this is pretty funny. It happens to me when I try to translate a Colombian saying to my gringo husband.

    Also, the irony of writing a post about funy Spanish-English translations and saying he defends himself in Spanish, which is a direct translation of the Spanish idiom “el se defiende” but I don’t think I’ve ever heard a gringo say they denfend themselves in another language, more like they can speak it ok, or, well enough

  • Andria says:

    This is hilarious. I always get lost in the translation. I’m a full-figured girl and used to get upset when I would be called “gordita” from my husband’s family and neighbours in Cuba. Now I just laugh it off and say “un poquito”. :)

  • eroman says:

    Me encanta esta anécdota. Todos los que vivimos inmersos en dos o más culturas, y vemos cómo nuestros hijos tratan de asimilar aspectos de las todas ellas en la medida de sus deseos, posibilidades y conveniencia, tenemos un montón de historias que compartir. Mi esposo, gringo él, me echa la culpa de que mi hijo de cuatro años diga “horse” con un sonido más similar a la “jota” del español que a la “hache” inglesa. Y a mí se me cae la baba cuando mi peque me pregunta cómo se dice “love” es español para ponerlo con letras muy grandes y coloridas en una tarjeta que quiere enviar a una amiga mía de la que él piensa que no sabe inglés.


  • trigu3na s0y says:

    Lol! I love this–it seems all too common for our Spanish to get lost in translation by someone whose not “well-versed” in la lengua. btw, Raul..could she have been referring to El Cuco (I think Puerto Ricans refer to it as Cucuy) ? just curious. =)

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