Language Lens

A blog about life, discovery and culture through the lens of language and linguistics.

Archive for the category “Lifestyle”

The Fork of Identity

I haven’t written in this beloved blog for many months. Since the last post I have come to Europe–Barcelona, Spain specifically–and although it’s only been about six months, it feels like years!  Adaptation and growth can indeed feel like a pressure cooker I suppose.

I could write about many things to open the Europe chapter of this blog, but one topic comes to mind specifically: table etiquette.

I remember how Alexia ate, a dear French friend I met in college.  I remember thinking it was quite “pretty” the way she held the utensils and used both at the same time.  I quite honestly had forgotten about it since coming to Europe, but of course it’s come to my full attention.  How could it not?  Recently someone commented on the way I changed hands when eating.  To him, it was quite strange and far from elegant.  The process is as follows:  American Style: Knife in right hand, fork in left hand holding food. After a few bite-sized pieces of food are cut, place knife on edge of plate with blades facing in. Eat food by switching fork to right hand (unless you are left handed). A left hand, arm or elbow on the table is bad manners.

Placing the knife on the edge of the plate and switching hands  was like turning on automatic pilot, and it’s moments like this when you realize just how American you are!   The American style of eating seemed like a lot of extra and unnecessary work to him, but what was far worse of an offense was that my left hand was not visible,  but according to the description above from “United States Dining Etiquette Guide,” having your left hand or arm visible on the table is bad manners in the US of A!  There are many ways to spot an American tourist: college and professional sports paraphernalia, tennis shoes, fanny packs, and the infamous North Face jacket, among others.  I never took part in the fanny pack craze (and never will for that matter), and I prefer Converse over Nike thanks to Argentina, but apparently, the hand I use to hold my fork is also a dead giveaway of my nationality!  Let’s call it the “fork of identity.”

It’s more accurate to call it the “North American style” instead of the “American style” as this also is the common way to eat in Canada.  In comparison, here is a description of the Continental/European StyleKnife in right hand, fork in left hand. Eat food with fork still in left hand. The difference is that you don’t switch hands-you eat with your fork in your left hand, with the prongs curving downward. Both utensils are kept in your hands with the tines pointed down throughout the entire eating process. If you take a drink, you do not just put your knife down, you put both utensils down into the resting position: cross the fork over the knife.

continental and american style

In the early nineteenth century in Europe, shifting forks back and forth while eating was not only accepted but also common believe it or not.  It was around 1850 when the upper class changed this and the Continental/European style became fashionable.  A French etiquette book of the time stated: “If you wish to eat in the latest mode favored by fashionable people, you will not change your fork to your right hand after you have cut your meat, but raise it to your mouth in your left hand.”  Although the “Continental” approach is also accepted in North America, it is far less common, and the opposite is not true.  The North American style stays on that side of the world and most Europeans today have their preferred style.

It’s debatable among etiquette historians where the “switch and then switch again” North American style came from.  Some etiquette books teach that it came to the States along with the British colonists, where others infer that Americans created it to be different, to keep in line with their pioneering ways.  Last week I happened to be at a dinner full of expats and sat next to an American who had been living in Europe for more than 15 years, and across the table was another with less years to his European CV.  I quietly watched to see how they ate, and neither of the two would have revealed their nationality based on how they held their fork.  They both used the European style with ease.  I asked Rob next to me when he changed his eating style, and he was struck by my question. He admitted he hadn’t thought about it in years, if ever at all, and he thinks he goes back and forth between the two styles depending on where he is.

I imagine this topic comes up for many Americans living abroad and/or in Europe often.  Despite having an EU Passport and living across the Atlantic, my identity as an American can’t and won’t change…but I think my fork will!

 

 

 

 

Whiskey: I stand with the ‘e’

Well gosh… it’s been many months since I wrote for this dear blog, and I hate to let so much time pass, but it’s been a busy year… with a lot of movement.  One part of that movement was returning to the “homeland”, she says with an Irish brogue.  I like to tease like that, as many of us Americans come from Irish ancestry, and especially a family with the last name of Kelly, the second most common last name in Ireland after Murphy.  Irish roots come from both sides of my family in fact, and nearly all my life someone made mention of just how Irish my name is.  So… it was no wonder that I wanted to go and see it someday.  That day arrived this past summer when I finally made it to the Emerald Isle!

My brother is the Guinness drinker in the family, and I went to the Guinness Museum in his honor, but I will admit it’s not my favorite brew.  What I prefer but don’t drink often is whisky.  I mean whiskey.  Both are actually right!  I was told before about this spelling difference, but didn’t quite understand it until I went to both Scotland and Ireland and saw it for myself.  These two countries take their whiskey seriously!  In the gaelic language, whiskey originated from the word uisce (Irish) /uisge (Scottish), meaning “water.”  Distilled alcohol in Latin (aqua vitae) is technically “water of life”, so therefore combine Distilled and Whiskey into Gaelic, and you get uisce beatha (Irish gaelic) and uisge beatha (Scottish gaelic), meaning “water of life” and indeed that is how it is viewed.

There are two general ideas about the spelling change.  First that it’s just a regionalism between the two countries, like color and colour from the US vs. Britian.  And secondly that the spelling refers to where it is from.  After going to the Whiskey Museum in Dublin, I attest that the second is true!  Whisky without an e is always for the Scottish versions, often called Scotch for Scotch Whisky.  Spelling it as “whiskey” in fact can be quite offensive.  As the two countries were competing back in the day and still dispute over who has the best spirit to offer the world, the ‘e’ was added to the Irish version for “excellent” to show its superiority.  Today much “whiskey” is spelled as such in the US as well, which isn’t surprising after visiting and seeing just how tied the two countries are.  The only other place I saw a comparable number of American flags is in America itself, and tour guides’ best explanation for this was “to welcome the American tourists.”  In the American Community Survey conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau in 2013, nearly 33.3 million Americans (10.5% of the total population) reported Irish ancestry, where Ireland itself has nearly 6.4 million lads and lassies!  So many of us consider ourselves Irish American, although I learned saying American Irish is more accurate, and what the Irish think is more appropriate as well!

So… now you know a bit about the word difference.  This isn’t just a spelling variation or a regionalism.  It truly shows where you stand in terms of preference and allegiance.  I stand with the ‘e’.

Here are a few photos from my journey: the Irish Whiskey Museum, the Cliffs of Moher, the Dingle Peninsula, St. Patrick’s Cathedral Dublin, Ring of Kerry, Galway, Blarney Castle, and Killarney National Park!

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Native Speakers as the Language Authority

Language is a living thing… constantly changing and transforming in the face of modern society.  Spanish, unlike English, has an authority or “regulatory body” which monitors the language and works to promote linguistic unity between different Spanish speaking regions: the Real Academia Española (RAE), Royal Spanish Academy in English. The RAE works to ensure a common standard in the language, following its founding charter: “… to ensure the changes that the Spanish language undergoes […] do not break the essential unity it enjoys throughout the Spanish-speaking world.”   Since English has no official regulatory body, some suggest the Queen is that authority or dictionaries like the Oxford English dictionary or the Merriam-Webster dictionary, but in the end, dictionaries are just a collection of words and language is so much more than that.

There are many more countries in the world that speak Spanish compared to English, however, there are many more English speakers in the world as it´s the most common second language to learn and is a lingua franca.  English as a lingua franca (ELF) has emerged as a way to explain communication in English between speakers with different first languages. One in every four English speakers in the world are native speakers, therefore the majority are speaking English as their second language!  Since English doesn´t have this authority like the RAE for Spanish, it will naturally be influenced by many people who speak it as only a second language and not even from just natives.  Singlish is an example: colloquial English spoken in Singapore.  Although English is an official language in Singapore, Singlish is a dialect with unique intonations and grammar stemming from the influence of other languages in the region, such as Malay and Chinese.  It is a regional variation of English–a dialect in other words–but it´s not the same as comparing US and British English as these come from Standard English and are not influenced by other languages in the case of Singlish.

Despite so many people in the world speaking English at a near native level, it is still the native speakers who are thought to have authority in this according to Barbara Seidlhofer in her article English as a lingua franca.  Seidlhofer says that, “there is still a tendency for native speakers to be regarded as custodians over what is acceptable usage.”  Perhaps the RAE equivalent in English are the native speakers themselves.

Despite RAE´s controls, there is a lot of creativity with new words in Spanish.  I love how you can make a verb for almost anything, like matear (as in to drink mate), boludear (to be/act as a “boludo” in Argentina), and my personal favorite: salpimentar (to salt and pepper your food.)  With the internet and technology, news words are constantly being added to the English vocabulary, and English has its own way of creating new words, such as by combining two ideas and/or concepts (like in the examples below) or to make a verb from a noun for the action, such as “to google.”  The following is a summary of some brilliant new terms that really reflect culture in the United States and/or in English speaking countries.  Some made me laugh a bit too!  For a full list of terms from the original article “25 brilliant words to add to your vocabulary”, go here.

afterclap askhole beerboarding cellfish chairdrobe chiptease destinesia dudevorce hiberdating internest nonversation textpectation

I have been back in the United States for about four months, and I can´t say that I have heard any of the following terms used, but I wouldn´t be surprised if I started hearing them, or if they are already used.  Who hasn´t bought a bag of chips and in the end it´s more air than chips?  And “chairdrobe” is great for me, as I have done this my entire life!

These terms are definitely better understood by native speakers, as they join together two words or two ideas to describe a new phenomena, which may not even exist in the same way in a different culture.  Furthermore, these words aren´t “real words” (yet) that one can find in a dictionary.  They are reflections of culture influencing language to create new words for new activities. New words come from new ways of life, and again, language is always changing and evolving, just like life around us.

Time is money, or is it? How different cultures view and live time

“Time is money” said the American, but “no it`s gold,” says the Spaniard.  Expressions differ from culture to culture but a greater difference is that in how time is viewed and “practiced” from culture to culture .  Since coming to Argentina, I must say I am quite adapted to how time works but there are always exceptions (meaning anything having to do with the dreaded word: tràmite.)  I met an American traveling around the world in Buenos Aires, his first stop.  He was surprised that I arrived 15 minutes late to meet him.  Although I am much more loose with time than I used to be, I was still worried he would be bothered that I was late, but on the contrary.  To him, me arriving 15 minutes late was “on time” compared to the average of 45 minutes late he had calculated with the Argentines he had met.  “Forty-five minutes, is that all?” you think.  Any North American or Northern European living in this “time chaos” have many stories of their own!Image

Argentina is a place where the lack of systems and infrastructure sometimes (always when related to a tràmite) make things take longer than you want, by American standards that is.  It`s not just that it takes longer, sometimes you wonder if it will happen at all. There have been so many times when I have planned several “appointments” to see friends, but then all plans were thrown out the window when the first appointment started two hours late.  Or going to a store and the salesman is not in a hurry to check you out, as working quicker is no guarantee for more profit nor is that the priority.  Or what about those weekend nights when you return as the sun is rising?  A club or bar does not get busy until 2 am and family parties go all night with even the young kids pulling all-nighters.  And going to a restaurant or cafe is a real blessing as you can sit there for hours without complaint.  This would be unheard of in the US without leaving a nice tip.  This is Argentina. You love and hate how time works.  It depends on where you come from and/or how tied you are to it.

Linear cultures are those who plan ahead, schedule, organize, are results oriented and do one thing at a time generally. These are profit-oriented societies where time is precious and viewed as even scarce. Time moves fast and if you want to benefit, you have to move fast with it.  Americans, Swiss and Germans are in this category.  According to the article “How Different Cultures Understand Time” from the Business Insider, Americans are people of action, and they cannot bear to be idle.  They view the past as gone and the present moment as an opportunity.  Argentina is considered a Multi-active culture–lively, people who do many things at once, planning their priorities not according to any time schedule but instead on the potential thrill or importance of each appointment. These cultures are emotional and people/relationship oriented.  They make decisions based on feelings where linear cultures stick to the facts.  Other cultures in the multi-active category include Italians and Arabs.  The third category are Reactive cultures,  those cultures that prioritize courtesy and respect, always listening (instead of talking like the multi-active) and carefully reacting to others` proposals.  In this group, face to face contact is important, statements are promises, and the people are very harmony oriented.  The Chinese, Japanese and Finns belong to this group.

There is also a “cyclical view” of time practiced in Eastern cultures where time is viewed neither as linear nor event/relationship oriented.  With cyclical time, the sun rises and sets each day; the seasons follow one another year after year, and people grow old and die, but their children ensure that the process continues. Time is not scarce when time is cyclical and there always seems to be an unlimited supply of it.  Asians do not see time as racing away as it would with a linear lens, but instead they view time as coming around again in a circle, where the same opportunities, risks and dangers will re- present themselves later, when you are wiser. Westerners instead are accustomed to making quick decisions and if a lot of time has passed without making a decision or producing something, it is often viewed as “wasted” time.

Although linear and cyclical cultures are very different, they both still see the past as something we have put behind us and the future as something that lies before us. In Madagascar, however, the opposite is true.  The Malagasy people view the future from the back of their heads, or passing from behind.  Instead it is the past that stretches out in front of them, because they can see it.  They can look at the past, enjoy it, learn from it, and even “play” with it, such as by consulting their ancestors or even digging up their bones!

If you are planning to live or work abroad, you can never really be prepared for how time is viewed differently until you live it and learn to love it (although complaining is still allowed once in a while!)  Just a few differences between English and Spanish that I have encountered when talking about time are the following:

  • English calls it “wasting time,” where the equivalent in Spanish is “to lose time.”  In Argentina for example, if you do not produce something or make the most of your time, at least there is a hope that you enjoyed yourself and/or relaxed a bit; this is the only thing that would have been “lost” for example.
  • To make time in English is to reserve time to do something else, surely something productive.  Time is structured and organized so you “set aside” two hours a week to study English for example (hint hint for those students out there!)  Making time in Spanish (haciendo tiempo), however, is related to “killing time”–like waiting for your flight at the airport.
  • El tiempo (the time) also means “the weather,” where these things would never be confused in English.  Time is time and weather is weather, period!
  • And “ahora” means “now” right?  Not always!  It could mean “later” and remember that there is always time to do it “tomorrow… mañana, mañana.”

The list goes on as do your personal stories.  Feel free to share them on a comment. I`d love to hear more about your personal experiences related to time and culture!

The main sources for this post include the following articles:

 

To be or not to be… Tolerant

Tolerance.  It’s a noun and a politically-charged word, which naturally some preach and others detest.  It and its adjective form, tolerant, have been used in a social context for years and continue to be used, just for different reasons.  I read it in fact today in the comments of an article, “I think you need to start becoming more tolerant of others.”

Spanish is very precise with its verbs and has two verbs for the single verb ‘to be’ in English, ser and estar.  In general ser is the choice to talk about personality traits and things that are more permanent, like nationality or telling time, where estar is the choice for things that are temporal, like feelings or location.  This topic proves to be difficult for English speakers who are used to yet one verb.  In order to differentiate between a permanent trait and a temporal state, we English speakers have to use more words… more grammar, such as adverbs:

  • The water is cold.  (It’s still unclear whether the water is permanently cold or just temporarily cold.)
  • The water is always cold.  (Adding the adverb ‘always’ shows that cold is the water’s permanent state.)

In Spanish, the meaning of a sentence changes based on the verb choice, and not by adding extra words:

  • Ella es feliz.  (She is a happy person.) (Ser)
  • Ella está feliz.  (She is happy, in the moment for some reason.) (Estar)

It struck me recently when I was reminded that the adjective “tolerant” in Spanish goes not with estar, a temporal state verb, but with ser, the permanent state verb.  Through the grammar lens, I say it’s a great message: tolerance isn’t a temporary state that comes and goes, it’s something that we must ‘be’ in the diverse world we live in.

I think so at least.

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And PS – this was about the word ‘tolerant’ and not the verb ‘to tolerate.’  That is another subject for another day.

The Voice of the People

It’s that time of year again, election time.  With living and teaching in another country, naturally I’ve talked a lot about the upcoming US election and just how the system works.   Like many Americans I’ve had to do my own homework on the infamous Electoral College.  It’s not so straight forward, and it’s certainly different than the Argentine way.   Here in Argentina I’ve looked for the Republican and Democrat equivalents and realized there aren’t any.   Despite there being some similarities in terms of how the government is structured, this is just one of the many differences.  For one voting in Argentina is mandatory.  The legal voting age was just lowered last week to 16 years old from 18; days before election all campaigning is prohibited, and the president is elected by winning the majority of the vote, the popular vote.

Surprisingly enough the President in the United States can be elected President without winning the popular vote.  How the President does win is by the ‘electoral vote’ in the Electoral College, which is the sum of Senators and Representatives (538 votes).  In the US government, each state has members of the House of Representatives based on the population of the state, and two Senators, regardless of the size of the state.  This is where the 538 number comes from, and in order to be elected, a candidate must have a majority of the electoral votes.  Since 1964, this number has been 270.

Evidently the Electoral College was not the Founding Fathers first choice, nor their only idea for how to elect a new president.  As the US Constitution was being drafted, the delegates of the Constitutional Convention considered five ways in choosing a President:

  1. By debate and vote in the U.S. Congress
  2. By the popular vote of the people
  3. By vote of the State legislatures
  4. By vote of the State governors
  5. By electors – the Electoral College system

Unable to agree on how to elect electors, the delegates eventually settled on the idea of leaving it up to each state.  The electors of the Electoral College are real people who are generally nominated or chosen by votes in their corresponding state.  They can be state elected officials, party leaders or people with some personal or political affiliation to the presidential candidates.  So when an American votes, they are voting for their state elector who then votes on behalf of the people in their state for the president.  In most cases the electors vote based on the majority vote in their state, but this is the law only in 27 states, including Washington D.C. as a state.  The other 24 states have no law requiring their electors to vote based on the majority vote and can instead choose the candidate of their choice.  For a breakdown of state law, go here.

This seems odd to me, although history has shown that generally the Electoral College has been true to public opinion.  In 2000, however, the famous election between George W. Bush and Al Gore was only the fourth time in the history of the country where the president was not elected based on the popular vote.  This time represented a great crisis in the country and regardless of opinions why, few will disagree that the country has only become more polarized ever since.  The popular vote didn’t matter in this case, so why would your vote matter today many wonder.  Historically only around 50%  of the population votes anyway (58% voted in the 2008 presidential election).  See the history here.

The validity of the Electoral College has been debated for years, and was close to being reversed in 1970, although obviously the bill for change wasn’t ultimately approved.  Today it comes down to a math game, and a president can be elected by not getting a single person’s vote in 39 states or Washington D.C., unless they win the popular vote in just 11 of these 12 states: California, New York, Texas, Florida, Pennsylvania, Illinois, Ohio, Michigan, New Jersey, North Carolina, Georgia and Virginia.  These are the most populated states in other words, with the most electoral votes.  This doesn’t even consider the now key-phrase in any election “Swing State.”

The Founding Fathers originally felt that this system would better represent the full population, as the states’ representatives would vote on behalf of their people.  Many things have changed since this time, however.  The two party dominant system was not in place then as it is today. Communications and news no longer take weeks to deliver and due to the media, the world has access to every word spoken by the candidates.  To the Founding Fathers, a tweet was just the name for the sound a bird made.

Each election the debate returns whether or not the Electoral College in fact represents the true public opinion.  Those who oppose the method have many criticisms, most of all being that a president can be elected without winning the popular vote.  Although this has happened in history, proponents of the method will say that it has happened few times and that the Electoral College is a weighed voting system that is designed to give more power to the states with more votes, although it allows small states to swing an election; thus the system considers and better represents smaller rural areas, and wouldn’t allow larger metropolitan or highly populated areas to dominate an election alone.

Unfortunately the country is very polarized today and only gets worse during election time.  Later this week some people will rejoice and others will be tremendously disappointed.  Politics aside, I truly hope the voice of the peopleis heard rather than it being a game of mathematics.

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http://edition.cnn.com/ELECTION/2004/special/president/electoral.college/more.html

http://www.debate.org/opinions/is-the-united-states-electoral-college-a-fair-way-to-conduct-the-presidential-election

http://usgovinfo.about.com/od/thepoliticalsystem/a/electcollege.htm

http://uselectionatlas.org/INFORMATION/INFORMATION/electcollege_procon.php

http://usgovinfo.about.com/od/thepoliticalsystem/a/electcollege_3.htm

http://www.archives.gov/federal-register/electoral-college/electors.html

http://people.howstuffworks.com/question4722.htm

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Is Spanish Sexist?

Not long after you start learning Spanish do you learn that a huge difference with English is that Spanish has genders, as is the case with other Romance languages such as French.  All words are either masculine or feminine in other words.  For example “el hombre” (man) is obviously masculine and “la mujer” (woman) is feminine, but other words such as “map” (el mapa) are masculine and “rain” (la lluvia) are feminine, words that have no explicit gender reference.

Point 2: The masculine gender dominates the language.  For example, if you have “brothers” and “sisters” together, instead of being forced to use both words as you would in English (unless you say siblings), in Spanish you say but one word to mean both—“hermanos.”  ”Hermanos” could also mean more than one brother, however, so despite being confusing at times the masculine dominance is clear.

Point 3: A common stereotype in Latin countries, some more than others, is that ‘machismo’ is ever present among the men, and some say among women too.  Machismo is synonymous with excessive masculinity, both apparent in attitudes and actions.  For a more academic analysis of machismo, go here… Now. 🙂

A BBC article entitled  ¿Es sexista el idioma español?  (Is the Spanish language sexist?) threw out the question if language is a reflection of the culture or vice versa?   One journalist and magazine director, June Fernández from Píkara Magazine, was quoted at saying that the masculine factor in the language is both a bias and a view of reality for how women are treated.  It seems that Fernández supports the theory that language is a reflection of culture.

Gender is a language trait that politicians take full advantage of in Spanish.  Cristina Kirschner, the current Argentine president, directs both “Argentinos” and “Argentinas” in her speeches, instead of the standard Spanish way which would be “Argentinos.”  Another example is the Venezuelan constitution which includes a long list of positions, including “presidente” (male president) and “presidenta” (female president), ministros y ministras (male and female government ministers), y viceministros y viceministras (you have the idea by this point.)

I see aspects of machismo in the culture, and even in my own culture I saw it.  It is close to what some North Americans would call being a “chauvinist.”  It also struck me when several Latin men told me that they considered women to be the actual machistas in society, as women either demand (or allow) men to treat them a certain way and as mothers, “they taught us to be this way,” one said.

So, gender dominance exists on both a grammatical and a societal level.  The sexism debate isn’t a new one, but what never gets old are the examples of it in language and culture.  One that stood out to me is the translation for handcuffs—a symbol of dominance in itself—“las esposas”, which means “wives” in English.

Need I say more?

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The Dollar Language

There are certain moments in history that scar a country forever; they leave deep wounds and change societal habits and attitudes all together.  The 2001 economic crisis in Argentina, also known as “El Corralito”, is one of these events.  El Corralito is the diminutive of “el corral” and means a small animal pen, a small enclosure, or a children’s play pin, all of which show the severe limitations that this government measure put on the people.

A brief history: Around 2001 the Argentine peso was losing value and in fear of losing more, Argentines started to pull their money from banks in large quantities and convert it to a more stable currency, like the US dollar.  Eventually the government froze all bank accounts and only allowed those who were seeking pesos to get funds, in small quantities of course.  The greatest blow (golpe) to the people was that the government converted funds/accounts in US dollars to Argentine pesos at a 1 to 1 rate, where the AR peso was really valued at 4 pesos to $1 US dollar.  In other words, if you had $4,000 US dollars before El Corralito, the money was worth 16,000 pesos, but afterwards, $4,000 dollars was worth 4,000 pesos instead…

Argentina is a country with an average annual inflation somewhere between 25% and 30%, although the government will tell you otherwise.  The country also has a habit of printing money, which only in turn lowers its value.  In the last few months, the government has halted the purchase (or conversion) of AR pesos to US dollars all together, which has consequently increased not only the demand for dollars but also the value of the US dollar, on the black market.  Today there are several dollars in fact, which really means several exchange rates—depending on what you are trying to do—but ironically a dollar being sold on the black market isn’t called the “Black Dollar” and is instead called the “Blue Dollar”, or el Dólar Blue.

Why blue and not black?  To make it not sound so bad, really.  The dollars have their own language, what I call the Dollar Language.

As of today, the 29th of August, the exchanges of different dollars are as follows:

  • Dólar Oficial (aka: Official Exchange) – 4.65 pesos to $1USD
  • Dólar Light Blue (aka: Real Estate Dollar)* – 5.51 pesos to $1USD
  • Dólar Blue (aka: Black Market/Informal/Parallel) – 6.37 pesos to $1USD
  • Dólar Green (aka: Arbolitos – little trees)* – 6.57 pesos to $1USD

*The Light Blue Dollar is the rate between the official and the black market dollar used for anything related to real estate.  It is also known as “Dólar Inmobiliaria” or “Dólar Building.”  The Green Dollar, or Arbolito (small tree), is the rate people selling and buying on the streets use, commonly in high tourist areas.

What has caused these different rates and where does the beloved and sought-after “Dólar Blue” rate come from?  Scarcity of anything drives up the price.  Although many things are different and better than they were in 2001, for anyone living here we hope this isn’t a case of history repeating itself.  For now most people I talk to are just waiting to see what happens, following the rates everyday, and hoping no one is too blue later…

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Frank’s Dancing the Foxtrot

Learning the alphabet is usually one of the first things you do when you learn a new language, to acquaint yourself with the sounds and to learn to clarify what you mean out loud.  Spelling out loud is critical for phone etiquette, when one can’t benefit from body language or reading lips, which I’ve never been good at.  Having a heavy accent also makes it difficult to communicate in another language, making knowledge of the alphabet even more important.  Besides, how are you going to share your email or Skype name with  someone of a different language if you aren’t in a place to write it down?

In English, we commonly use first names to reference letters out loud.  Usually it’s “B as in Bob”, “C as in Charlie”, “D as in David”, and “F as in…”

You were going to say Frank weren’t you?  Well, I would have said Frank, until I was at the Hartsfield–Jackson Atlanta International Airport and noticed that they in fact say “F as in Foxtrot.”

“F as in Foxtrot…” but that’s a dance and what happened to Frank?

I thought perhaps it was a regional thing, being in the South of the US, and I even wrote a blog post with a brief history of the dance, but a kind and wise reader (you know who you are) informed me that this was in fact because of the “NATO Phonetic Alphabet,” also known as the International Radiotelephony Spelling Alphabet, the Voice Procedure Alphabet, the Radio Alphabet, the Telephone Alphabet, or the simplest version of all, the Spelling Alphabet.  Turns out there are a lot of alphabets and Frank belongs to the US Financial Alphabet (or the First Name Alphabet which was first compiled by the financial firm JSC.)

I wonder how Frank feels about that?  Maybe he works on Wall Street and is thinking of other things.

It’s easy to mistake a [b] for an [e], but in cases where pilots are communicating with air traffic controllers, or the military, misunderstanding a letter could be disastrous.  These alphabets are incredibly important.

So, what’s important about this post, other than learning that there are tons of alphabets to be aware of?  There’s always some reason behind why certain aspects of language are the way they are, which is what linguists strive to understand.

For any English students reading this, when spelling a name/word in English, I’d recommend using “F as in Frank” instead of “F as in Foxtrot” unless you’re in the military or fly a plane.  Frank is a better choice and this gives you a chance to learn to dance the Foxtrot instead!

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Peanut Butter, It’s like Gold

I love peanut butter.  I guess I fell in love with it during the days of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, and yet I didn’t know how much I loved it until it became difficult to get.  It’s a great and easy snack, with a great taste, and it’s really American I now see.

I can get peanut butter in BA, but if you find it, it’s either a creamy color paste with a lot of oil on the top, or you’re going to pay a lot for a small amount, which I have been and would be willing to do, if I was really desperate.  I was in fact holding out on the peanut butter purchase until my trip to the US, where I could maybe get a friend with a Costco membership to help me buy an irregularly large jar (those who know Costco are smiling now), or maybe I’d just find one at a typical grocery store.

So I found it, a large but not obnoxious jar of Jif, and I bought it.

The time then came to return.  I packed my bags and knew I was a little over weight-wise.  Arriving at the airport, I inevitably had to reorganize as I was about 10 pounds over in a bag!  You don’t realize how much things like shoes weigh… or jars of peanut butter.

So I placed the Jif in my carry-on and proceeded through security only to find out that peanut butter is considered a liquid according to US airport regulations.  No!  That meant that I couldn’t take it on the plane as it was clearly not a 3 oz. container.  I wasn’t shocked but disappointed, well yes.  I even told the security guard, who was surprisingly understanding and apologetic that where I’m going “it’s like gold.”  He too must know how special it is for expats.

Peanut butter is an American taste I’ve realized.  There’s a Latin American equivalent: Dulce de Leche, although not in taste.  I think it’s an equivalent in the fact that it’s a well liked taste that is used everywhere, and I mean everywhere.  It’s hard to get a dessert without it in fact.  And then what about Vegemite for Aussies, or Nutela for the Germans-neither of which I really know how they are viewed culturally but I suspect it’s similar to enjoying peanut butter?  It’s an acquired taste of the cultures you see!

Judging by a new product, it looks like Cheerios understands the importance of taste, (although they compare Dulce de Leche to caramel when someone who really knows about Dulce de Leche will tell you they aren’t the same.)

And now look to the left.  The beloved peanut butter.

It’s become more important to me than ever.  I’m back in Colorado due to travel complications, and of course I’ll buy another jar.  Maybe Jif or Peter Pan, definitely creamy.  I thought I had missed my chance.  Glad I didn’t.

Here are some language notes about Dulce de Leche, which is said to be an Argentine invention by the way.  Different countries have different ways of calling it:

  • Argentina and Uruguay: Dulce de Leche
  • Chile and Ecuador: Manjar
  • Colombia, Peru and Venezuela: Manjar blanco (or) arequipe (depending on the region)
  • Mexico: Cajeta (and not exactly the same product)

For more information on Dulce de Leche (as there’s more to read than you expect): go here.

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