Tuna Anyone?

I was at the store one day and spotted a bottle of shampoo that was tuna scented. I wondered, “Why would anyone want to smell like tuna?”

Then I was served this fruit:

THIS is tuna – the fruit of the cactus. It tastes a little like a kiwi crossed with citrus.

When I told my Mexican friends that in America, tuna is a fish, they thought that was pretty funny. Everyone knows the fish is called atun!

Well, now you know too.


If you have ever eaten a tostada, you know that it can be a challenge.

You have a toasted tortilla, piled high with beans, meat, lettuce, tomato, crema, salsa, and cheese, possibly with a slice or two of avocado on top and you have to figure out how to bite into it without it cracking and crumbling into a heap. (Chips are so much easier.)

We had tostadas for lunch the other day. I was up for the challenge. I had neatly polished off one and started on my second when a couple of bites in, it suddenly cracked and fell out of my hand landing upside down on the placemat.

Alejandro, my hostess’ grandson, said, “No mas experiencia con tostadas?”

I heard that. Not only that, but I understood that.

Now what kind of thing is that to say?!!!!

We all had a good laugh, when he realized that I understood him.

Psst…the secret is to let the tostada sit a little while so the toppings have a chance to soften the tortilla a little before you try to bite into them.


Yo no estoy de pie

I am learning a lot about anatomy of late. Words like rodilla (knee), tobillo (ankle), pierna (leg), and pie (pronounced pee AY) which means foot.

Yet even with this added vocabulary, the expression above (Yo no estoy de pie), part of a recent Spanish language lesson, had me scratching my head and saying, “What?”

I literally translated it as, “I am not of/on/from foot,” and sounded like I was saying, I do not have feet. But that could not be right, could it? Why would they put such an example in a language primer?

Mexican friends to the rescue. In Spanish that expression means, I am not standing, or without the “no,” I am standing.

Since then I have come across several “de pie” expressions, all of which are equally confusing translated literally. Thankfully, I now know the basic concept and can figure out what they mean.

Studying Spanish in a hammock

Yo no estoy de pie



Learning a language can be quite comico at times.

I was at a meeting recently, struggling to understand what was being said. I had recently learned that unlike in the US where tamales is plural and tamale is singular, in Mexico, you have one tamal.

Tamales, MexicoWant some salsa with that?

As I was listening to the speaker, I kept hearing the word tamal. “Tamal” here and “tamal” there, “tamal,” “tamal,” “tamal.” This was a serious discussion though and I could not figure out what tamales had to do with it. Finally I asked my companion, “Why is he talking about food?”

She looked at me quizzically and asked, “What?”

I replied, “He keeps saying ‘tamal.’ What does food have to do with the discussion?”

She had to stifle a laugh, then explained that he was saying, “esTA mal.” “It is bad.”

Sounded like tamal to me.

Becoming Mexican

Because I wrapped a bright colored Mexican shawl around my waist to dress up an outfit, someone accused me recently of becoming Mexican. Yeah sure, with my command of the language. That’s funny.

But then this cool front came in… Cold front, axco de Alarcon, Mexico

and the temperature dropped to the mid-sixties. I had to laugh as I found myself rolling my pant legs down and reaching for a jacket.

65 degrees of frio (do I sense a book title there?) Yep, I’m turning Mexican alright.

Well sort of, I am not wearing a winter coat like some people.



Word Play

Tools for learning SpanishLast week I wrote about Spanish words that are confusing. I seemed to have struck a chord (Huh? Hope you didn’t hurt yourself.)

The responses are rolling in — with examples of words and funny expressions that we use to liven up our language but actually make no sense to someone from another county.

One friend wrote, ” Getting your head around a language is understanding the culture.” I agree. Only by understanding the background of the speaker can you truly understand what they are saying. For example, the adage attributed to Native Americans about walking a mile in another’s moccasins. To understand that, you first have to know what moccasins are.

My friend shared her frustration with learning Kayah, a tonal language native to Southeast Asia, spoken by a group of refugees where she lives in Texas. She wrote, “TOE is both yes and no. Yes is said high and no is said low. NGO is both tears or word. PREH can be person or again. If you use the wrong tones you can be telling them, “no again word,” which gets very confused looks, when you are trying to say, “Yes the person cried.”

Spanish has its share of tonal variations. Si‘, with an accent, means yes, but without means if. El with an accent on the e means he and el without the accent means the. Vino can mean come or wine.

Esta means this; accent the first syllable though (ESta) and it means this one (not that one), but place the accent on the “ta” and it is a form of the verb to be — esTA mal (it is bad.)

English has a fair share of tonal, or just plain confusing, words also. Read, for example — I read (reed) a book today, but I read (red) it yesterday. You, can mean one person or a group of people; with the exception of the deep South, we have no word for you all. And then there is here and hear.

And if you really want to have some fun, analyze the meaning of common idioms. What in one language is part of our cultural heritage and perfectly understood, makes another wonder “Que?”

Here are just a few:

Right now — How is now right? Can it be left (or wrong) too?
I’m under the weather — Do you need an umbrella?
He’s over the hill — Which hill?
See you — Well, of course, I am standing right here.
Time will tell — Time talks? Do you have a talking watch?
Hit the books — Why? What did they do wrong?
Feel free — At no cost? Great! But feel what?
Knock it off — What do you want me to knock off?
Go figure! — Figure what?
Get on the ball  — It keeps rolling out from under me.
Go fly a kite — But it’s storming!
Day in, day out — How is that?
Look up (something) — If the book is on the lower shelf do I look it down?
To each his own —Own what?
Polished off — Your plate needs polishing?
Stand corrected — And if not corrected do I sit?
Run over — Won’t that hurt?
Cut him off at the knees — That must really hurt!
Noodle on those for a while.

Played this classic Abbott and Costello skit for my English students this week. It is the perfect example of how confusing the English language can be.

Don’t die laughing!

Palabra del Dia – Word of the Day

I live with a Mexican family, that other than the usual pleasantries (Good morning, good night, etc.) do not speak English, and though my vocabulary is growing my ability to truly communicate is vastly limited. I try though.

I am told that I am learning quickly, although I do not feel so confident in my abilities. My head literally hurts some days as I try to understand. And, there are times my brain absolutely refuses to speak Spanish no matter how hard I might try.

Tools for learning SpanishTo over come my inadequacies, I have downloaded two language apps that unlike Google translation, work offline. One is an English-Spanish dictionary, just like the book form only handily kept on your Smartphone where it is easy to reference and less likely to be left behind somewhere. The other is a translation program, Jibbigo, that translates phrases or sentences in a number of  languages, so if you and the person you are trying to communicate with can both read and type, you can actually have a simple two-way conversation. The phone will even do the talking for you, in case your pronunciation is horrible.

As we were sitting around the dinner table recently, Irma’s granddaughters were curious about my translation app so we played around – translating and pronouncing different words. It all started because I wanted to say something was funny, so I looked it up – co’mico  (pronounced CO mee co). When I was trying to help them pronounce funny, which proved to be difficult for them (Spanish does not have a short u sound). I said it was similar to the name of Irma’s daughter, and the girls’ mother, Fanny (pronounced Fahn ee). We made ” funny” the word of the day and went on comparing other words in Spanish and English.

Later when I asked Carlita (Fanny’s youngest daughter) what the word of the day was. She thought for a moment and said, “Mama?” So much for word association! Yet, we all got a big kick out of her answer.

The following morning Irma questioned me about “good morning,” “good afternoon,” “good night,” and tested out all the other English words she thought she knew. (Quite a few actually!) Despite her initial objection that she was too old to learn English, she just might learn after all.

In fact, we (the whole family) will all learn together. Much more fun than studying a book for hours on end; more practical too because you learn the words you will actually use.

Our word for today is amiga/amigo – friend.

My Mexican family

Irma (R) and some of her family.