Lo Bueno

Lo Bueno

Being without a computer for even just two weeks was miserable.  I actually came up with a bunch of ideas for blogs, but hadn’t been able to type any of them up.  Here’s the start of a series in the style of  www.cracked.com article.  Below are 3 awesome things in Nicaragua that you can’t find in the States.

 

1.     Nickney Slang

What it is

For those unfamiliar with cockney rhyming slang, it is a really odd type of English slang based on (what I would consider) un-guessable rhyming patterns.  One example, featured in “Green Street Hooligans” is when the word “bees” is used to mean money.  Bees make honey, honey rhymes with money.  Another example is the word ‘bristol’ being used to mean breasts, as in “check out the bristols on that bird” (Bristol City, city titty).  My friend Charlie and found the idea hilarious in college, but ultimately our lack of lime consumption made their use in everyday conversation impossible.

I have seen word play in Nicaragua that reminds me of this, although of a slightly different flavor.  I was hanging out by a street vendor who sells gum, cigarettes, candy, water, etc., on a median of a busy street.  A taxi driver rolls up and asks for a Persian avocado (aguacate persiana).  This, through a convoluted process of interpretation, actually means a small bag of water.  Aguacate is an extension of agua and persiana is a play off of peso (which in itself is a bit of slang, since the currency is the Córdoba).  So the guy is actually saying “give me the water that costs one Córdoba.”

This type of word play comes up even more frequently in card games.  When playing Casino, one often has to announce the number of the pile that one is ‘building’ in the game.  Rather than just saying “diez” or “catorce”, people say “Diego” and “catarro” (a cold, as in illness).  Instead of “J”, “Q” or “K”, which are ‘jota’ (HOE-tah), ‘cu’ (coo), and ‘ca’ (kah) in Spanish, respectively; one says “Julieta”/”Julia”, “culebra” (cobra), and “caramba” (as in ‘ay caramba’).  It’s important to note that it’s rare to say jack, queen or king.  Some people do say Ace but mostly because the word for Ace, ‘As’ – pronounced ‘ahs’ – sounds very similar to the pronunciation of the letter ‘A’ – pronounced ‘ah’.  For those who are interested, in Nica Spanish diamonds are called gold, clubs are called flowers and spades are called black hearts, while hearts are still simply called hearts.

My favorite part of this is that “catarro” is taken one step farther, and oftentimes someone will say “catarro al pecho” (a chest cold) instead of “catorce”.  This then gets clipped to “al pecho” or just “pecho”.  So somehow, “chest” now means fourteen, even in situations outside of the card game.  The fun part for me now is that I can’t see a queen playing card without associating it with a snake wrapping around her, nor can I see a king without thinking of him screaming “¡ay caramba!”

OH MY GOD I’M A KING!

Why this is awesome

One of the great things about Nicaraguans is the way they play with language.  I don’t find most Nicaraguan humor compelling; most of it consists of dick/gay jokes, double entendres and puns.  I have a soft spot for etymology and linguistics and I think this stuff is just downright fascinating.  Whenever I hear a new phrase like this it’s like a mini-puzzle and its fun to try and trace back what the person really means to say.

Why this isn’t in the States

Honestly, people may do this in the States, I just can’t think of any examples.  Reduplication is certainly common in American English.  Examples of this are, ‘namby-pamby’, ‘itsy-bitsy’, and ‘nitty-gritty’.  The word picnic comes from the same phenomena, just in French, from the combination ‘pique-nique’.  Here ‘pique’ either means a leisured style of eating or it means the special food taken for the outing and ‘nique’ being non-sense, and not from the ‘pick a nigger’ myth.  We also play around with numbers a bit through some synecdoche.  Drug dealers sell dime bags (ten dollars worth drugs) or a prisoner might ‘do a dime’, meaning ten years in jail.  Still these don’t really feel the same as the Nicaraguan examples cited above, and besides Nicaraguans do the money to large number change as well.  A chelín (25 cents) can be used to mean 25 of anyting else (minutes, Córdobas, kilometers, etc.)  A side note on that as well, chelín is a corruption of the Britishism “shilling”.   If anyone can think of an example of this weird rhyme play in American English, please feel free to post it.

 2.     Double Baggin’ It

What it is

Packaging is a pretty serious expense in Nicaragua.  I’ve bought entire cakes before and been asked if I wanted a box with it.  I was dumbfounded.  The box doesn’t come with the cake?  How am I expected to take it anywhere?  But it was fair that she asked, because boxing up that cake didn’t come cheap.  And sure enough, I’ve seen plenty of people balancing an unboxed cake on the handlebars of their bikes on their way to a party.  Take-away Styrofoam food boxes lead to a premium on your meal.  Glass is pretty precious as well and breaking or dropping a beer bottle is a bigger deal than breaking a drinking glass in the States.  Nor could you even think of walking out of the bar with it in hand (despite the lack of/enforcement of public drinking laws).

But there is one form of cheap packaging that every Nica loves: the plastic bag.  You can get consume quite a lot through a plastic bag.  Everything from drinks like juice water and soda to solid foods like rice and beans, tacos, plantain chips, etc. For a time even moonshine liquor was sold in plastic baggies until enough people were hospitalized from being given duped into drinking methanol.  After this the state declared this type of sale to be a public health hazard and baggie booze was outlawed.  I should explain something about this as well.  To consume out of a plastic bag, one doesn’t drink from the opening at the top, or necessarily reach in and pull out the food.  The idea is to tie a knot at the top, then bite a hole in a corner, and suck out the food/drink.  If you have a taco or a bag of plantains, you mash them up in the bag and then slurp it out the corner.

Yer doin' it wrohng

Why this is awesome

Leaving the slurping fried food part aside for a moment, one of the great things about bagged drinks and food is that it is so cheap.  Recall the one cord bag of water.  Buying bottled water can be easily ten times as expensive as buying it bagged.  It also allows anyone to sell juices and drinks made in their house.  It’s much simpler to buy a bunch of empty bags and fill them than it is to start bottling something.  There’s also something that’s actually kind of pleasant about drinking out of the corner of the bag.  Maybe it’s some Freudian oral fixation.  Who knows?

Why this isn’t in the States

DC and I assume other places in the States already implement bag taxes just for the bags you carry the food away in.  I can’t imagine environmentalists would stand for packaging everything in these very expendable little plastic bags.  And with good reason, as great as the bagged water is, a plastic blue sheen stains the majority of the Nicaraguan landscape.  Also, sucking tacos through a hole isn’t a very classy way to eat, and I don’t think it could gain any mass appeal in the US.

3.     The Magic School Bus

What it is

The majority of busses found in Nicaragua are either reformatted school busses or mini-vans.  Coach busses do exist but are mostly for international travel.  Bussing is one of the things that is surprisingly well run in Nicaragua, at least in my part of the country.  Despite a stereotype for lateness given to most of Nicaragua, busses run very regularly, are pretty reliable and have routes that cover the majority of the country.

Why it’s awesome

The bus cooperatives receive a subsidy on their gas from the government.  While I don’t know how much the subsidy is, it must be pretty substantial because bus travel is incredibly cheap here.  A 140 km (84 mile) trip costs a little over $2.50.  This is not only relatively cheap compared to the states, but also compared to other expenses here.  This, combined with their reliability and coverage, makes the bus system here pretty awesome.  Even when MegaBus ran 1 dollar specials from DC to NY, I was still spending a lot of money and time on getting to and taking metros, commuter trains and all that noise and the whole trip becomes a big deal.  Here, it’s no big deal to jump on a bus and ride pretty far away.  You can also eat pretty decently and cheaply either at little restaurants in the terminals or by snacking on food brought on by vendors at various stops.

If only the busses here were this cool

Why this isn’t in the States

As great as the bus subsidies are for me, a resident who doesn’t pay taxes, I have to assume that these subsidies can’t last forever and are a pretty substantial government expense.  Hugo Chávez helps Nicaragua out a lot in this respect, and his magnanimity can be expected to diminish in the coming years.  Besides, it seems like the last thing the US could handle right now is an unnecessary increase in public spending.  As for the vendors selling food on a bus, I don’t know why this isn’t done.  Food is sold on planes and trains.  Why not on busses?  It doesn’t even necessarily need to be sold by the bus company.  Why don’t passengers just take on a bunch of food and try and subsidize their trip a little?

I had the idea to do a few more, but didn’t want the post to run too long.  I should have the next one coming up soon.

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