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Published: September 28th 2018
After a few months back in Mexico, I've learned a few new things! I decided to come back due to my having to leave Colombia for 6 months, to learn more about the country and it's history and to learn some more about colloquial Mexican Spanish now that I have far better Spanish than I did when I left 2 years ago.
Some new expressions I've encountered include "Como el tigre de Santa Julia". This is used to describe a situation in which someone is caught in some kind of unfortunate situation whilst sitting on the toilet. The story of the origin of this idiom is an amusing one; it goes that there was a bandit who robbed from the rich and was very difficult to capture. He was known as the Tiger of Santa Julia and every time the police thought they had him cornered, he'd slip out of the proverbial net and escape to continue his life of crime in the Mexican version of Sherwood Forest. He was caught out one day, whilst using nature's giant bathroom (a cactus) to do his business. The police cornered him and shot him stone dead. Thus, when I told my story of being in an apartment during a magnitude 6 earthquake in Taiwan, my tattoo artist, giggling, told me about the idiom and explained the story to me.
During the same inking session, I learned a new rude word in Spanish with one of my first funny errors in quite a while! I was talking on then phone to my girlfriend whilst being tattooed and I was telling her about the artist. I said that his name was Pepin, before converting it using the "aumentativo" form. In Spanish, one can emphasize the size of someone or something by adding an "aumentativo" or "diminutivo" suffix. For example, a cat is "gato", but I can emphasize the fact that X cat is particularly small by saying " gatito" instead. I changed his name from Pepin to "Pepon" to implicitly give her the information that he's big without using extra words. Little did I know that "pepon" is a fairly vulgar slang word for vagina. He was laughing as he told me that he'd prefer not to be called "a pussy" again, but I sensed from his expression that this was a relatively rude word here in Mexico!!
People are usually pretty savvy and are very patient when foreigners make mistakes like this, though kids are different. I actually had to explain to a 9-year old little girl that I'd learned Spanish as a second language and that, particularly at night, I sometimes need a few minutes to warm my brain up before diving into a conversation. I compared it with doing your times tables first thing in the morning, and she got it.
One of the good aspects of living quite far from the city center is that I frequently interact with people who rarely meet foreigners, especially foreigners with a high level of Spanish. I've been bought tacos, written English greetings on grease paper for giggling children and been asked dozens of questions about other countries, my tattoos and many other topics at a dizzying pace by curious locals. This is a great way to practice Spanish, and I recently noticed a slight improvement in my fluency! Once you get to a high level, learning a new expression or idiom or an improvement in fluency is as exciting as it gets. Hearing a cheerful "good night, profe" over my shoulder last night was reminder of how fast progress is when you're first learning a language.
More stories of Mexico and my attempts to get to grips with Mexican slang and idioms coming soon!
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