Cuban idioms

No comas de lo que pica el pollo [Don’t eat what chickens peck]

Al cantío de un gallo [next to the rooster crowing or not that far away]

Otro gallo cantaría [if true, another rooster would sing]

A gallina vieja dale candela [give fire to an old chicken or give it time and it’ll work

Gallina vieja da buen caldo [an old chicken yields good broth or older women are better than young chicks]

I still don’t understand why. But, chickens feature prominently in Cuban life. Even within the heart of Havana, you’ll either hear a distant rooster, often confused, crowing at any time other than dawn or see a few hens pecking away for whatever crumbs they can find. It never fails when we’re fresh off the trans-Atlantic flight and losing our battles with jet lag and surrealism, some crazy rooster will signal morning in the dead of night. Cuban chickens — they are entirely odd to me. And, yet, I love them.

During our last trip, we sat at a cafe in the old botanical gardens in Varadero, which supposedly featured ‘the best piña coladas in Cuba’ [they were not; and anything that is ‘the best’ is typically crap]. As we sat sipping our overly boozed-up cocktails, made somewhat more palatable because of the amount of rum in them, an older gentleman sat down at a nearby table. Out of nowhere, a herd of chickens flocked to this man. He had brought the magical bag of stale bread and the chickens could not have been happier.

Amongst these happy hens, the cockiest rooster I’ve ever seen strut about and occasionally pecked up the treats on offer ignored by his brood of hens. This rooster though — he was a thing of beauty, almost too gorgeous to be hidden behind walls and at the end of a bit of a winding driveway away from the rest of the peninsula. As long as the bread lasted, he was all about the puffing up of his chest and strutting his stuff for an audience of six.

But, chickens. What is it about chickens in particular that they feature so prominently in Cuban life? For every idiom my husband attempts to translate for me, there is some relation to a rooster or old hen or chick in some way shape or form. For whatever situation we are discussing, be it political, social or economic, chickens provide the answer or punchline. The early bird may get the worm, but the chicken spotted that worm long ago and decided it was too skinny. Or something like that. [NB: This is not a Cuban idiom to my knowledge, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it was.]

Perhaps if all chickens were this lovely, I’d get it. But, many of the chickens scratching about in Cuba look rather…unappetising. But, this guy… Cock-a-doodle-doo, indeed.

Cock-a-doodle-doo 2

Rowdy rooster at a cafe in Varadero, December 2016

Why ‘proekt’?

Thanks to those of you who are following my Proekt 365 posts. Today’s post will come later, but I wanted to take a few moments to address one question I’ve received a few times now.

As an expat, my English is no longer strictly American. After living in Moscow, Russia, for eight years, a few Russian terms have become far more accessible at specific moments.

One of those words is проект, or ‘proekt’, the Russian term for ‘project’. For whatever reason, when I began thinking about doing this specific project, I kept hearing thinking about the project title in Russian: Проект 365 (‘Proekt trista scshest’decyat pyat’). Perhaps it was because I had chatted with my friend Gunilla about challenging one another to complete the project (she is a close friend from our days in Moscow). Who knows?  Regardless, in my attempt to claim ownership over this little project and make it more meaningful to me, #365grateful became ‘Proekt 365′. And, that it shall remain.

There are other Russian words and phrases which have crept into my everyday vocabulary and displaced the English terms. Beer is no longer beer, but пиво (‘pivo’). Sour cream is always сметана (‘smetana’). Да, ладно (‘Da, ladno’) is a catchphrase for ‘whatever’. Less translatable but a particular favourite is хитрый (‘khitri’), which roughly translates as ‘cunning’, but also carries a sense of twisted cleverness, and streak-of-evil cunning attached to its meaning.

Living with a Cuban has brought other phrases into every day use. My favourite and one which I use far, far too often ¡Oye! ¡Mira!‘, roughly translated to ‘Hey! Look!’ (my use is more akin to ‘shut up and listen’, but you get the idea).

Since Southern Finland is so English-friendly, there are few Finnish phrases which have entered our particular language. Perhaps that will change when / if we ever get a handle on what seems an incredibly difficult language.

It’s a great thing to be an expat and to have been afforded the opportunity to fully immerse into Russian life. Not only did I gain an understanding of a people who for so, so long occupied my consciousness as ‘the enemy’ having grown up during the Cold War, but it’s allowed me to luxuriate in the richness of Russian and my own native language (and recognise those same individuals as a people who are now very dear to me).

The words we choose carry such profound meaning because of how they are understood collectively but also because of the meaning we as individuals attach to them. So, choose them wisely. And, for kicks, add a few ‘foreign’ words into the mix.

How do you say, 'hello'?

How do you say, ‘hello’?