It’s something about the holidays and the influx of family, friends and frenemies which brings out the best and worst in all of us. Today I’m going to focus on the “worst” part and specifically the human propensity to take advantage of one another, something which occasionally happens within families. Whether it’s that relative who crashes at your house for fourteen days too long, that aunt which asks money of you or that friend who buys you a gift and then requests a favor, we all have aprovechados in our lives. Spanish is a language rich with proverbs and sayings which address this issue, and I’d like to share some age-old tidbits of sabiduría from the language of Cervantes:
“El muerto y el arrimado, a los tres días apestan.” = “Dead people and guests stink after three days.” The word arrimado comes from the verb arrimarse, which means “to latch onto,” “hang around” or “move in with.” This verb is particularly common in Mexico and, when used non-reflexively (without the se), it simply means “to move something closer.” When used reflexively, it means that a person moves him or herself in and invades your personal space. If you’ve ever seen the movie “Chevy Chase’s Christmas Vacation,” you might remember cousin Eddie, who moves in with Clark’s family for a month. He is a classic case of un arrimado, but so is your brother Brian, your sister Luisa or your aunt Shelly.
“Baile y cochino, en casa del vecino.” = “Dance and pig at the neighbor’s house.” This saying refers to people who prefer to let others host and pay for social events but are happy to attend and avail themselves of your hospitality. I have a relative who, year after year, never hosts or contributes anything to our family gatherings and she is a classic example of a cochino at a baile.
“No más ven burro y quieren viaje.” = “When they see a donkey, they want a ride.” This one refers to people who covet what you have simply because you have it. It may be that your brother doesn’t really like your new car, but because you bought one, now he must have one. Or perhaps you got pregnant and now your sister, who never cared for kids, wants a baby too. This saying can also refer to people who take advantage of other people’s means to achieve their own ends… someone who borrows your car constantly and never thinks of buying their own.
“Del árbol caído todos hacen leña.” = “Everyone makes firewood from a fallen tree.” If you read the tabloids in the checkout line, you know that the press is extremely adept at taking advantage of the misfortunes of others. Fallen pop stars, royals in disgrace, actors caught committing crimes or having affairs, politicians in hot water, etc. This saying refers to those who benefit in some way from the shame and suffering of others or, as we say in English, those who throw salt into an open wound.
“La ley de Caifás, al fregado fregarlo más.” = “The Law of Caifás: if someone is screwed, screw them more.” Caifás, or Caiaphas, was the biblical high priest who organized a plot to crucify Jesus. This saying refers to the human propensity to kick a person when he’s down. In some places, you’ll hear it as “al jodido, joderlo más.”
“Apóstol trece, come y desaparece.” = “Thirteenth apostle, eats and disappears.” This describes people who only show up for the food and aren’t actually interested in the event. It can be applicable to holiday gatherings, especially in reference to that sister who shows up for dinner and suddenly has somewhere to be before the gift exchange begins.
“Unos vienen a la pena y otros a la pepena.” = “Some come for the funeral and others for the goods.” The word pepena comes from the verb pepenar, which means “to pick up” or “to collect.” This saying highlights the fact that not everyone attends a funeral out of grief, but rather out of interest for the deceased person’s belongings. The meaning can be applied to any event which a person attends out of interest rather than sincerity. To those, for instance, who come to Christmas gatherings only to see what gifts their rich grandparents bought them and couldn’t otherwise care less about the family or festivities.
“La mitad viva, vive de la mitad pendeja.” = “Half the living live off the dumbass half.” This one basically means that the world is full of cunning individuals who live off the work, savings and efforts of those, who thorough ignorance or passivity, allow themselves to be taken advantage of. If your son is 28, living in your basement and playing video games rather than seeking gainful employment or contributing to the grocery bill, then you might be part of la mitad pendeja. And if your cousins are staying through New Year’s and expect you to provide transportation, food, lodging and entertainment without any offer to contribute or reciprocate, then they are among the leeches which constitute la mitad viva in this equation.
“Más vale llegar a tiempo que ser convidado.” = “Better to arrive on time than to be invited.” This saying has both positive and negative connotations. In a figurative sense, it means that, when it comes to opportunities, it’s better to put oneself in the right place and at the right time than to wait for someone else to act on your behalf. In a more literal sense, however, it refers to colados (“party crashers”) who show up expecting to be fed and served despite not being welcome. It may be that an unwanted or uninvited guest shows up at your holiday party this year… this saying would apply to him or her. Incidentally, this saying is a slightly sarcastic spinoff of the more benign and very common “Más vale llegar tarde que nunca” (“Better late than never”).
“De los parientes, los jefes y el sol; mientras más lejos, mejor.” = “Relatives, bosses and the sun- the farther away, the better.” This one speaks for itself and many of us can probably relate. If not, check in here after the holidays…
Feel free to share any proverbs, dichos or bits of wisdom which you’ve picked up in your Spanish learning journey. If you’re interested in more of these, I can post different topics in the future. Also, check out the show Como dice el dicho… it’s a unique Mexican drama series based on proverbs like these. I’ve linked to an episode based on a variant of one of the sayings on this list: “De los parientes y trastos viejos, pocos y lejos.” Meanwhile, ¡feliz Navidad y próspero año nuevo!