Author Archive
Folk speech
Proverbs

Cuban Proverb #2

Original Text: “Camarón que se duerme se lo lleva la corriente.”

Transliteration: “Shrimp that sleeps is taken by the current.”

Translation: “A shrimp that sleeps will be taken by the current.”

 

The meaning of this proverb is that a person who is lazy won’t amount to much. The source says that her mother often told her this when she was a teenager and chose to nap instead of doing her homework. It’s a saying that’s often used to berate people who aren’t being productive. She says she didn’t value it much at the time, but now, looking back, she finds that it holds more meaning because her mother was working all the time. After leaving Cuba and moving to the US, her family struggled. Her parents worked many hours so that she and her five siblings could live good lives. She says her mother was never taken by the current. She always swam past it.

It’s interesting because I’ve heard similar proverbs in the US, but none expressed precisely like this. It seems the Cuban version has taken the proverb and colored it with their own flare by using ocean-related words to demonstrate their point, which makes total sense since Cuba is an island nation.

As for the point it makes on being productive and whatnot, it’s a very fitting proverb for this community of Cuban exiles. Many of them left their entire lives behind when they left Cuba and had to start from scratch in the US. The current was definitely something to be afraid of. If they didn’t try their hardest every day, they may have left for nothing.

While I formally collected this source from my aunt, I also recall hearing it at another point in time from a coworker who’d come to Miami in a raft. He said it to me as I was sleeping in the passenger seat of his car, as we were returning from a summer camp field trip. Thinking back on it, in a more literal sense, for those Cubans who came to the US via raft, the person who slept would actually be taken by the current. Thousands of Cubans have made the journey to the US on rafts called “balsas.” There’s a lot of space to cover between Cuba and Florida, and without enough manpower and dedication, the raft will go off track, and they could be stranded at sea. Perhaps this proverb takes some root from there, rather than originating in Cuba?

Adulthood
Customs
Initiations
Life cycle
Rituals, festivals, holidays

The Great Norwegian Graduation Rager

“So in Norway, when we graduate high school, we have this tradition that the two weeks leading up to our, um, independence day, um, we essentially do college in two weeks. And by that we, uh, everyone essentially has like a startup company where they fund, they get money and they work and they buy a bus. And this bus is to represent a group of people that have together to party on this bus for these two coming weeks. You build this bus to represent you as a group. So you paint it, you have your own song. They usually spend about twenty to forty thousand dollars on these buses. And they pay a couple to three thousand dollars per song or more. People live off this shit. They graduate high school and they just make music for these crazy graduating students. And they have a pretty decent life. Umm, so what you do is you do this and then you buy a suit, you buy like overalls that are completely red and covered in the Norwegian flag, and it’s got different colors. That’s the only time that you’ll ever see these colors in Norway which is why I find it so baffling that people in America keep wearing and wearing their flag everywhere. I guess it’s like weird, it’s like nationalism, which is bad, but for these two weeks in Norway: totally cool. So everyone gets drunk, everyone has sex with each other, there’s a bunch of STD things going on and like a lot of people take precautions so there’s just condoms everywhere in the capital for those two weeks, literally just so that teenagers can just grab them passing by. They’ll be in like metro stations, bus stops, random places there’ll just be like a little cup of condoms because people are just like doing things all the time. So there’s a lot of drugs, a lot of drinking, and you kinda like, you do all of those, you get all your immaturity out. That’s the whole point of it. So by the time you have your independence day, everyone’s so fucking exhausted that when you actually celebrate the day  that you celebrate Independence Day  and that you celebrate your graduation, then finals happen. Afterwards. So it’s a big thing in Norway where people have been trying to get the finals to happen before these two weeks. Because what happens is a lot of, like,  not a lot, but  maybe one out  of twenty people failed their finals because of this tradition. Every year. So they’re trying to change that now. I think it’s going to change this year, but the fact that the government, that all entire Norway works around this insane tradition: just get fucked up and have sex for two weeks? It’s fucking fantastic.”

 

The source definitely looked upon this tradition with a lot of happiness. It seemed to be one of his favorite parts of high school. He said it’s not a very long-standing tradition, but that it’s definitely been around as long as he’s been alive. He says it’s a way for them to release all the pent up stress from the year. It allows them to let loose and do crazy things that, under other circumstances, wouldn’t be allowed.

This tradition seems to come with its own sort of hall pass. It sounds like the kind of thing that these kids would never get away with if only there weren’t so many of them participating in it. That’s probably how it came about in the first place. Some group of kids wanted to let loose, but they knew they’d get in trouble, so they got a whole bunch of people together and went nuts. It probably didn’t fly as much back when it started, but now that it’s mainstream, the whole country probably knows to expect this debauchery and just lets it slide.

What also makes it interesting is that it involves a lot of responsibility. It’s almost like a rite of passage, really, because these kids have to work and save up money in order to be able to afford this massive, two-week rager. They also need to plan and organize it all themselves. Basically, they’re doing very adult things in order to be able to do some very not adult things. Quite the contrast.

Foodways
Holidays
Material
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Gross Norwegian Food

“So we have this little tradition in Norway where we eat lye fish. Do you know lye? Do you know what lye is? So lye is a liquid obtained by leeching ashes or strong alkali. So you literally put a fish in ash and you let it rot. Then you leave it in the ash or lye until it becomes so fermented that all that’s left is the part of the fish that doesn’t serve any function, the jello that’s only there to make sure that the rest of the body stays where it should be. And that’s what you eat. Once a year. For Christmas, primarily. And you eat it with so many things on the side that you disguise the taste of the fish. So like, the whole point is you use as many small dishes as you can. You can’t just eat the fish because the fish tastes horrible. And we all agree that it tastes terrible, but we all keep eating it because it’s tradition. It comes from Lofoten. It comes from way up north. It comes from a way of preservation. So it was back in the day when we didn’t have refrigerators or anything like that. They could put the fish on lye. And then that would… You know, it rots, but you can still eat it. It’s like, yeah, it works. It’s called lutefisk.”

 

Lutefisk sounds like an absolutely awful dish. It seems the source felt that way about it anyway. He recalls eating it every Christmas ever since he was little. No one enjoys it, his family merely does it out of tradition. The tradition, like he said, stems from old times when fish couldn’t be preserved in refrigerators and whatnot. So instead, people would preserve fish by keeping it in ash.

It sounds like this dish wasn’t invented intentionally. Ash was probably used to preserve other things, and they had no idea the effect it would have on fish. They probably preserved the fish in ash or lye for a couple of days, came back, and seen a whole different product than they were expecting. I’m surprised it’s still around though, considering the method of making it and what it actually is. Must be a very strong tradition for people to still be eating it today.

People probably hated it back then, too, but like the source said, with enough side dishes, the fish could be forgotten. It probably allowed ancient Norwegian peoples to still take in some kind of protein during the heavy winter months, along with whatever nutrients they got from the harvest.

 

For more on this recipe:

Legwold, Gary. The Last Word on Lutefisk: True Tales of Cod and Tradition. Minneapolis: Conrad Henry, 1996. Print.

Folk speech
Proverbs

Cuban Proverb

Original Script: “El que nace para real, a peseta nunca llega.”

Transliteration: “He who borns for real [Cuban coin, equivalent to a dime], to peseta [Cuban coin, equivalent to a quarter] never arrives.”

Translation: “He who is born to a dime will never make it to a quarter.”

 

This Cuban proverb talks about fate. Essentially, it means that if someone is born to never be wealthy, there’s nothing they can do to change that. According to the source, it has to do with fate. Some people just aren’t “fated” to be wealthy. She’s heard it used in a couple different ways. On one hand, it can be used by someone as a way to put others down, to tell them that they’ll never amount to much more than what they already are. On the other hand, it can be used to comfort those who aren’t happy with their economic status by telling them that it’s not their fault that they’re not as wealthy as they’d like to be, that it’s just destiny.

The strong tie to destiny is probably due to Cubans’ religious beliefs. The majority of Cubans are Catholics, and they believe that God has a plan for all of us. So, in this case, they use their belief in God to justify economic status. The proverb also puts a lot of emphasis on money being what defines a person. This is very interesting, considering Cuba’s status as a Communist country.

The source left Cuba during the rise of Castro’s regime. Under Castro’s governance, there hasn’t been much social mobility in Cuba. One  typically stays within the socio-economic class they;re born in. If we are to view the proverb through this lens, then, it becomes much more literal. When we say that “He who is born to a dime will never make it to a quarter,” rather than it referring to God or fate, it refers to the state of the country. Anyone who is born in a low social class will not move up. That’s how Cuban society had been engineered to be.

The two interpretations aren’t all that different though, really. In both cases, the proverb speaks to a sense of hopelessness. One is dealt a certain hand in life, and they are forced to play with it forever. It makes sense, especially, with the way Cubans have felt under Castro, especially the ones who emigrated to the US. Had I spoken to a Cuban currently living in Cuba, there’s a chance they’d never use such a proverb. Whereas in Miami, anyone who came from Cuba is almost guaranteed to be anti-Castro, and a proverb like this captures their sentiments and the impression he left on them before they left the country.

Folk speech
Proverbs

“Don’t Jump the Gun” in Norwegian

“Okay, so it’s this thing, and it’s literally translated, ‘Don’t sell the bear’s pelt.’ Is that what it is? Pelt is fur? Yeah, ‘Don’t sell the bear’s pelt before it’s shot.’ It literally means, like, don’t celebrate until it’s happened. Don’t, don’t, don’t jump the gun. But in Norwegian we say that about hunting and bears. *laughs*  So yeah, it literally, but yeah that’s one term.”

 

The source talked about this proverb with particular passion because he really likes it. He says he tries to live by this proverb so that he doesn’t get too far ahead of himself. The source is a filmmaker, so he has a lot of grand ideas, and he says that if he sells the bear’s pelt before it’s shot, there’s a chance it’ll bite him in the butt later because he may not always be able to come through with his projects. He says it’s better to celebrate step-by-step than assuming you’re going to be successful the entire way.

I very much like this proverb as well, particularly because we don’t have one like this in the US. Or at least, I’ve never heard one quite like it. I know I’ve heard the sentiment before from my parents, but I think the phrasing is pretty unique. The message is also great. What does it say about Norwegians? Perhaps that once, their egos were large, so they have to weigh down their pride using proverbs like this.

This proverbs speaks to patience and wisdom. Also, the fact that it phrases in terms of bears is interesting. It makes it even more uniquely Norwegian. You wouldn’t get this proverb in, say Cuba for example or Peru even. Because those countries don’t have bears. For Norway, though, bear hunting is huge. They need the pelts for making clothing and blankets to protect from the cold, which gets awful in Norway for half of the year.

general
Proverbs

Norwegian Proverb

“So, literally translated, what we say is, ‘It’s not only only, but but.’ It’s literally a sentence that means, ‘You’ll be fine.’ Which, it means that, okay so what you are up to is not easy, but it only is what is. So you shouldn’t care too much.”

 

This Norwegian phrase sounds much like our own, “It is what it is.” Their term, however, seems to go a little further by saying that, while you can’t change what’s happened, it’s going to be fine. The term “It is what it is” has more of a defeatist connotation to it. Like nothing good is coming out of it. But this Norwegian version puts a positive outlook. Like, “Yeah, this suck now and you can’t do anything about it, but you’ll still come out all right.”

The source recalls hearing this from his friends in high school. In fact, the example he gave me of when he’d use it had to do with school. Someone got a D on a test once, and he remembered telling them this phrase in response. I know when I hear, “It is what it is,” it makes me angry because it’s like the person is telling me there’s no hope and there’s nothing I can do. But I feel like this phrase is far more reassuring. It sounds like more of a kind remark.

I wonder if that says something about Norwegian culture. Perhaps are they more optimistic as a society than we are? I’d probably have to hear more of their proverbs and sayings to really know, but it already sounds like they’re more hopeful than Americans.

Customs
general
Rituals, festivals, holidays

ANZAC Day

“ANZAC Day is our Australian day where we acknowledge, um, the sacrifice, I guess, of the Australian soldiers in both World War I and World War II. Um, it takes place on the 25th of April every year. Um… It kind of, it came from- Well, ANZAC stands for the Australia and New Zealand Army Corp. And so ANZAC was like the nickname given to like the soldiers who went over to fight in both world wars, but in the first world war, it’s like this really long story about how, um, the Australians got kind of called in to kind of, um, take the heat off another country, I think it was Britain or something. Um, got called in to like take the heat off them and distract the enemy for a bit, but they ended up walking into basically a slaughter. They kind of just off-loaded the boats, they landed, and they all got killed. Like, we learned about this in, like, primary school and high school but like, it’s that kind of thing where like, you learn about it so much that you kind of just tune it out. I’ve never learned the specifics, but like, thousands died, and like… It’s remembered in, like, Australian culture because it was like the first time. It was in the first world war. It was the first time that Australia kind of like proved itself I guess, in a way? Australian soldiers went over there and they kind of um… We were a newly formed nation at the time, so we’d only been on our own, like, independent for about 18 years at that point, and like, we hadn’t really proved ourselves. So we went over there and even though, like, hundreds of men got slaughtered, it’s kind of remembered as a sign of like Australia kind of asserting itself as a strong nation. So like as people who will, um, kind of tough it out, I guess, and that’s kind of what ANZAC Day has come to mean for Australians every year. So the tradition is that on the 25th of April every year, um, not every Australian does it, but like, it’s kind of, um, a lot of Australians do, so I would say like 50% would observe the day, but like everybody acknowledges it, everybody knows what the 25th of April is, but I would say around 50%, 60% get actively involved in the day. I personally do. My family, not all my family does, but me and my mum do. We get up really early, at like 4AM or 5AM and we go to what we call a dawn service, which is where you go to your local suburb, I guess, your city center, your county. So every suburb has kind of like a monument where it has on it inscribed all the names of the men who died during the ways from your suburb. So all the local men who enlisted and died during service are written on the wall, and at the dawn service there’s like, literally thousands of people from your suburb. They gather and usually do an hour-long service where it’s people from like the army, the air force, and the navy, all come to be like representatives of the ANZACS. They also have ex-service men. People, anyone who’s still alive from the first or second world war come as honorary guests. Descendants of the original ANZACS come if they are still alive or still live around here. It’s a nice service. They have speeches and prayers from the different denominations. And they have singing, like some songs usually about God, but just some songs that they usually say were, like, sung on the battlefield. And one of the most important parts of the dawn service for all Australians, and even if you don’t go to the dawn service, you know the sound of, it’s like this horn that they play. It’s a trumpet. It was like the trumpet that they played on the battlefield. It was like the trumpet that roused them to battle and told them it was time to fight. But also it was the horn that they played when the fight was over and basically everyone was dead and they called a retreat, so like, it’s kind of the sound of this horn that signals the start and the end of the dawn service like the one that signaled the end of the fight on the 25th of April, which was when all the men died. It’s usually like a pretty moving service, I guess. A lot of people, like, sing along and join in prayer. Most will also, like, shed a few tears during prayers or speeches because like the sacrifice that the men made on the battlefield made us able to keep Australia as an independent nation, free from enemies invading, I guess.”

 

This was a very solemn piece to collect. The source spoke about ANZAC Day with a lot of respect. She knew a lot of the history and wanted to pay respect to the people it honors. It’s a great idea, I think, much like our Veteran’s Day. I feel like ANZAC Day is far more personal than Veteran’s Day, though. Americans don’t particularly do anything on Veteran’s Day, where as it seems Australians have organized a lot to do on this day. They must have a different kind of respect for their armed forces. They also have far less people in their country, so that might be why it’s more personal. Whereas for us, we have thousands of veterans. It’s not quite the same. We also sort of treat it as just a day off of work or school rather than a day that’s actually dedicated to a certain group of people.

Festival
Holidays
Rituals, festivals, holidays

The Melbourne Cup

“The Melbourne Cup is the first Tuesday of November. It’s a public holiday. That shows how important it is to Australians. It’s a horse race. I don’t know how it became big or why it became big, but like it’s genuinely observed across Australia. It’s like a series of races that take place all week. They’re just horse races of different heats, of different… Just horse races! Horses from all over the world come to Australia to race in Melbourne Cup. The reason why it’s so big is that… So it’s a series of races, and the biggest race is the Melbourne Cup, and it’s quite long, and only the best horses compete in it. The reason why it’s so big is because people… It’s like a festival, I guess. It’s fashion and food, and it’s more about like the people, I guess? It’s like the Oscars or Grammys where, like, you’re like, ‘What’s she wearing?’ It’s kind of like that. When it comes time to the actual Melbourne Cup race itself, people put bets on which horse is gonna win. And that’s part of the tradition. Even if you aren’t normally a betting person most people in Australia will go put a dollar, two dollars, five dollars, ten dollars, probably not extreme amounts, but people will go and put money on a horse. The newspaper has a centerfold with like all the horses and their statistics and the jockey and their experiences and where the horses have won before. I pick #12 because that’s my lucky number, I just trust that number. And then you go to the tab and you put a bet on. You can do it from anywhere in the country, not just in Victoria where the cup is. The Melbourne Cup is the one day a year where the tab is full, it’s like bursting. It’s usually just a couple men, like the serial gamblers. It’s hectic on that day. I get excited. It’s the one day a year where I actually get excited about a horse race. I think you can tell that everyone else cares, too. It’s all people talk about in like the days leading up. Three o’clock on the dot is when the race starts. When I was in high school, school finished at ten minutes to three. And there was no way I was gonna get home in time or anyone was gonna get home in time for the race. So school ends classes like half an hour early on Melbourne Cup day so we can all get home in order to watch the race. My brother and I would get off the bus, and we’d race home, and we’d drop our bags and everybody would be in front of the TV. I don’t even know why it was a family affair, but it was. I can’t explain the excitement when the race started. It was kind of like everything stopped. And the tag line for the Melbourne Cup is like, ‘The race that stops the nation.’ And it genuinely is. Like, traffic stops. People park their cars and like listen to it on the radio. Everybody stops for like two or three minutes just to listen to this race. Unless you win, though, you don’t get anything out of it. You don’t get any like satisfaction or money, just nothing. It can be kind of anticlimactic. When it’s over, people kind of just go back to their lives. Some people will like watch the after ceremony where they like crown the jockey and like give him money and stuff. They interview the owner of the horse, and they put a little sash on the horse to say that he won. It’s just the one day where everyone in Australia kind of stops. It’s kind of become an Australian tradition just to watch.”

 

I could tell this was a very exciting experience for the source to relate. It’s certainly outside of her usual interest, but like the rest of Australia, it seems not to matter whether horse racing is in your interests or not. Because it’s not a horse racing thing. It’s an Australian thing. It’s part of their identity. It’s very much like our Super Bowl. Everybody watches the Super Bowl, everybody knows who’s in the Super Bowl. The whole nation stops on Super Bowl Sunday. That’s what the Melbourne Cup is for Australians. However, it seems they have a lot more invested in it what with all the betting and whatnot. Americans, however, experience it longer. Whereas no one researches before the Melbourne Cup, it seems, and not too many people continue watching after it’s done, the Super Bowl is savored for every minute of it, including the aftermath. And everybody is prepping from the week before.

Folk speech
Riddle

Cuban Riddle

Original Script: “Un muchacho le pregunta a una muchacha, ‘Cómo te llamas?’ Ella le contesta, ‘Si el enamorado es entendido, ahí va mi nombre y el color de mi vestido. La respuesta correcta es, ‘Su nombre es Elena y su vestido es morado.”

Transliteration: “A boy asks a girl, ‘How do you call yourself?’ She to him responds, ‘If the lover is understood, there goes my name and the color of my dress.’ The answer correct is, ‘Her name is Elena and her dress is purple.'”

Translation: “A boy asks a girl, ‘What’s your name?’ She responds, ‘If the lover is understood, there goes my name and the color of my dress.’ The correct answer is, “Her name is Elena and her dress is purple.'”

 

This riddle only makes sense in Spanish because the Spanish word for lover, enamorado, is a combination of the last three letter’s of the girl’s name, Elena, as well as the color of her dress, morado. ena+morado=enamorado. Furthermore, the word enamorado is preceded by the word el in the joke. El translates into “the” in this context. The woman in the riddle is testing the man to see if he’s clever enough to figure out  her name using only the clue, rather than just asking for it.

The source said she heard it at a bridal shower. They were telling wedding riddles, and this one came up. It’s a coy riddle, with the woman sounding very flirtatious. It seems she’s interested in this man, but only if he’s smart enough to beat her game. It seems odd that her dress would be purple rather than white, though. Perhaps in some earlier version of the riddle, the man was a prince? Because purple is known to indicate royalty.

 

For another form of this riddle:

Ortiz Y Pino De Dinkel, Reynalda, and Dora Gonzales De Martínez. Una Colección De Adivinanzas Y Diseños De Colcha = A Collection of Riddles and Colcha Designs. Santa Fe, NM: Sunstone, 1988. Google Books. Web. 23 Apr. 2016.

Folk speech
Proverbs

Cuban Proverb #3

Original Text: “Más vale pájaro en mano que cien volando.”

Transliteration: “More worth parrot in hand than one-hundred flying.”

Translation: “A parrot in your hand is worth more than a hundred parrots flying.”

 

According to the source, this proverb means that “things you already have are worth far more than those things you only have a chance at.” It can apply to money, friendships, jobs, etc. Basically, it’s used to discourage people from gambling with their lives. It expresses a disdain for uncertainty and favor for things that are already known/owned for sure.

For example, imagine you have a stable job, but there are several opportunities that might prove to be better, but you can’t know for sure. A Cuban might say to you, “Más vale pájaro en mano que cien volando.” In this case, they’re telling you that it’s better to stay with the job you already have than to go after one of the other ones.

Like Cuban Proverb #1, this one places a lot of emphasis on wealth and staying with what you already have. In Cuban Proverb #1, we saw that anyone who is born of one socio-economic class will probably not move up. In a way, this proverb puts down anyone who might think of doing so. It doesn’t say this in a manner of, “Don’t do it because those are the rules,” but rather in a manner of, “If you try, you might only make it worse for yourself.” I suppose it’s not always like this, though, since this proverb applies to more than money, but when it is used in the context of wealth, it seems to discourage movement between social classes.

At the same time, though, it contradicts with Cuban Proverb #2, which basically says that slackers will fall behind. Well, if one were to ignore the flying parrots, then wouldn’t that be a form of falling behind? They’re sending mixed messages, which could be confusing for the child that grows up hearing all of these. What are we to understand of Cuban culture then? There seems to be a want for economic safety, which makes a lot of sense for those who fled Cuba for the US. After managing to gain a standing in the US, it would be best not to lose it. But at the same time, it also seems there’s a want for more. They left behind their lives. Their country was stolen for them. Do they maybe feel that they are owed something more in life because they’ve been wronged?

I posed this question to the source, my mother, who said I was looking too far into it. She says Cubans just like to feel nostalgic by reciting the proverbs they heard growing up in Cuba. According to her, sometimes they don’t even know what they’re saying. They just say it out of habit.

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