Sunday, November 28, 2010


When I lived in Laredo and worked for a certain international department store, I decided I wanted to branch out and move to Puerto Rico. I guess you could say I had island fever—I wanted to live in the Caribbean. Luckily the store I worked for had its international headquarters in San Juan at that time. I asked for a transfer there and, unbelievably, received one.

About six months before moving there, I subscribed to a Puerto Rican newspaper in hopes of learning all I could about the island and its culture. There was one thing, however, that bothered me in that paper. I frequently noticed ads that said, “Los Chavos? Dónde están? Están en el Banco Nacional.” I didn’t have a clue what “chavos” were. I asked my Laredo friends, Spanish speakers, each and everyone, for the translation of “chavos”. No one knew. One friend suggested that maybe they meant chivas, but why would anyone keep goats in a bank?

After arriving in Puerto Rico and getting settled in our small hotel [temporary lodging until I knew in which store on the island I would be working and it also became the setting for my first published novel The Pig Farm], I decided my son and I should take city buses and tour San Juan. This was something I had done many times in México City and I felt quite comfortable doing it.

I looked around for a Parada de Autobús or Parada de Camión but all I could see was a Parada de Guagua. Huh? Gua-gua meant woof-woof or bow-wow, didn’t it? I thought, Why would there be a parada for barking dogs?

Now, if you’re thinking that Parada de Guagua fooled me, you’d be wrong. I knew it was the bus stop. A bus pulled up and stopped there.

So, grabbing my son’s hand, we prepared to board the guagua. As I stepped up, I politely asked the driver, “¿Cuánto es?”

“Diez chavitos,” he replied.

“¿Cómo?” I asked.

“You don’t speak Spanish,” he said. “Ten cents.”

“Sí, hablo español,” I said as I handed him a dime. Just what language was he speaking, I wondered.


As we sat there enjoying our first Puerto Rican bus ride, I wondered if there was anything else that transplanted Laredoans (I'm originally from Oklahoma) might encounter with an offbeat translation.

After returning from our bus ride, I asked my son if he would like to go to the little restaurant around the corner and get something to eat.

As I read the menu I knew we were in trouble. The only juice offered in this restaurant on a tropical Caribbean island was jugo de china. Who in their right mind would drink Chinese juice??

To be continued . . .


Marilyn Levinson said...

A wonderful topic. Reminds me of the various words/expressions used for "bathroom" in Spanish-speaking countries: WC, bano, etc. Depends which country you're in.

Palmaltas said...

Thanks, Marilyn. El excusado was another one if I remember correctly.

marja said...

Okay, I can't wait for the rest of this story. What fun you must have had!