Original Script: “Ubos-ubos biyaya, bukas nakatunganga”
Transliteration: oo-boss oo-boss bee-yah-yah, boo-kas nah-kah-too-nga-nga
Literal Translation: Finish finish gift, tomorrow staring
Smooth Translation: Finish your gifts too quickly, tomorrow you’ll be staring emptily.
Background: This proverb was often told to the informant, who was raised to be careful and wise about how she distributed eating her special treats on the rare occasions that she received them. If she was finishing her “carefully doled out goodies” too quickly, she would be cautioned being so hasty with finishing up her blessings.
Context: This proverb was shared to me through a Facebook Messenger call later in the day with an informant who had previously spoken to me at our weekly Sunday luncheons.
This proverb says a lot about the informant’s family values, especially in regard to special gifts and abundance. While this proverb was mostly used when the informant was a child and it was usually in reference to inconsequential things such as candy or food, it is indicative of deeper values that ran in her family. In using this proverb, children learn to value more extended gratification and taking their blessings in small “bites” instead of ravenously expending all that they have. Because if they do, they will simply have nothing to do later on but stare emptily when they could have had more of the blessing then if they had been more prudent about going through what they had.
“Bahala ka sa buhay mo,” it essentially translates to “Whatever, it’s your life; you can handle it,” in a tone that, in a way, communicates the exact opposite to whoever is hearing it. It shows disapproval for something that a person of lesser power, like a son or daughter, is about to do. It is the withholding of validation that hurts the most when you hear that from someone you respect.
Background: This is a proverb/saying that anyone who has had a parent disappointed in them has heard. It’s extremely common to hear mothers say it to their children when they are about to make a decision that is frowned upon.
Context: The informant is a 60 year-old Filipina immigrant to the United States who has children of her own. This myth was told to me during a weekly luncheon that always follows our Sunday church services.
As the daughter of Filipino immigrants, I have also been told this a countless number of times whenever I’m having a struggle of autonomy with my parents. My experience of Filipino culture has included a highly involved family life, which often means that parents exert heightened amounts of control over their children’s lives and decisions. While I used to resent having them dictate the actions I should take, the idea that they are relinquishing all of the control to me and having me handle my own life knowing that they do not believe I am ready to do so is also scary. That, I think, is the saying’s purpose. It drives home the idea that our parents are so sure of our failure that they’re willing to watch us deal with the consequences of our actions without their help.
“Bahala Ka” by MC Einstein is a song that uses the proverb to give an “I don’t care” attitude to the listener from the singer’s point of view. The disappointment and lack of concern in the original proverb are then inserted into the song’s lyrics and message.
She learned it from her grandma in Jordan, when she was around 7 or 8. The first time she heard it was when her grandma asked her if she wanted to sleep over, to which she said that she had to go home. Her grandma then said “Rayahtni min fsak” (“You saved me from your farts”).
Original Script: بطلت انام بحضنك… ريحتني من فساك
Transliteration: Battalt anam bi hodnak… Rayahtni min fsak
Translation: I stopped sleeping on your lap… You saved me from your farts
I found this saying-response pair really funny, since not many people think of how often children fart while sitting on an adult’s lap. The first part (“Battalt anam bi hodnak”) sounds like it could be swapped out with any declaration of independence that would make the other person upset. The second part (“Rayahtni min fsak”) is a witty response to the declaration that essentially means “You were a burden to me.” The humor of the response makes it easier for the message to get across without sounding rude, since independence can be a touchy subject in a culture where families are tight-knit.
He “heard it from almost everyone [he] knew when [he] was a kid” in Jordan. You would say this “to someone who is lucky enough to show up just in time to share the food of the people he’s visiting.”
Original Script: حماتك بتحبّك
Transliteration: Hamatak but-hibbak
Translation: Your mother-in-law loves you
I did not understand the saying until I realized that the only way for it to make sense was if Arab mothers-in-law rarely like their children-in-law. I find this quite odd, since it goes against the general tendency of Arab families to be tight-knit. After that realization, I was able to connect the saying and its meaning. Generally, Arab families like to eat together, and tend to prepare more than enough food, so if someone is lucky enough to visit someone as they are eating, they are likely to have some with the family. The comparison is that the luck of someone that shows up coincidentally at mealtime is as lucky as one who is loved by their mother-in-law.
He heard it a few times when he was a teenager in Jordan. According to him, someone trying to “break up the fight or reconcile the parties” would use this saying to calm the people down.
Original Script: امسحها بلحيتي
Transliteration: Imsa-ha bi lihiti
Translation: Wipe it on my beard
This saying intrigues me because it does not sound like anything meaningful at first, but it starts making some sense when given some thought. The mediator, by telling the two people/groups to “wipe it on [his] beard,” is saying to leave their grievance there with him. When you wipe dirt from your hand onto another surface, the dirt is no longer on your hand, and it stays on the wall. The fact that there is saying for this shows that Arabs, like many people, commonly act as mediators.