Proverb – El Salvador

En casa de herrero, cuchillo de palo.[1]

In house of blacksmith, knife of wood

In the house of the blacksmith, is a knife of wood.

Jorge heard this proverb in his childhood used by the adults in El Salvador. His mother used to say this to Jorge’s older brother, Tony, because even though Tony helped out doing chores for their neighbor, he did not do those same chores at home. According to Jorge, this proverb is used when “someone should be doing something at home, he’s not doing it at home, he’s just doing it outside.” Basically, this proverb is used to point out how oftentimes people will do things better and more properly outside, but when back in the comfort of their homes, they are prone to slack off. Thus, although the blacksmith works hard all day working metal for others, in his own home he uses a knife made of wood.

I personally would interpret this proverb from a slightly different angle. To me, it speaks to the relationship between one’s private life and one’s professional life. I’ve heard somewhere that “Cooks never cook at home.” To me, this projects the same idea—what we do at the office, or at the factory, we do not like to carry over to the home, or we do not have the energy to do so. I think this speaks an unfortunate truth about our present society so caught up with work and careers—whether in El Salvador or in California. The fashion designer often cannot groom the self, and the doctor has no time to exercise. My mother is an English tutor, and I have often heard her complain that she does not have the time and energy to teach her own children. Of course, I have no way of knowing if this is what the original users of this proverb meant. However, I have a feeling if this proverb remains popular in the future, it will most likely be because of this sad irony of modern life.

[1] Annotation: Glazer, M. (1987). A Dictionary of Mexican American Proverbs. New York: Greedwood Press, p. 51