M has learned about different proverbs from family members, often elder ones, and learned this particular one from her great aunt when she was a child. She uses this particular one often to her grandchildren.
The context of this piece was collected during a movie when the protagonist was late for an important interview.
M: Precisamente por eso les digo a los niños que la gamba que se duerme, se deja llevar por la corriente.
Yo: ¿Qué significa eso?
M: Tienes que ir un paso por delante del resto. Si no estás atento y aprovechas las oportunidades que se te presentan, otro las aprovechará. En otras palabras, serás como la gamba y te arrastrará la corriente.
M: That’s exactly why I tell the kids that the shrimp that falls asleep, is taken by the current.
Me: What does it mean?
M: You have to stay one step ahead of the rest. If you are not on alert and seize the opportunities ahead of you then someone else will take advantage of them. In other words, you would be just like the shrimp and get taken by the current.
I found this proverb really interesting because I had already heard American variations of this proverb. I had heard of “Early bird gets the worm” which I believe has similar meaning to the proverb said by M. The phrasing reveals a lot about how the meaning or essence of a proverb changes as it transcend among different cultures I also found it interesting how the proverb used simple imagery so that realistically anyone can understand what it means.