1. Mucho chicle pero poca bomba | Lots of bubble gum but little popping
The phrase has an equivalent in English — all talk and no action — but it is more “literal” than our version, and for that reason, less fun. We also use “Más es la bulla que la cabuya” (more noise than rope) a phrase we like because bulla and cabuya rhyme. The second idiom is used in other countries, like Nicaragua, with a different meaning.
2. Es bueno el cilantro pero no tanto | Some cilantro is good, but not too much.
This culinary metaphor is a way of warning you not to overdo stuff. Cilantro (aka coriander or Chinese parsley) is an aromatic herb, often used in Venezuelan dishes such as soups, stews, sauces and dips. Because of its distinctive flavour, adding too much is a mistake and it will ruin your dish. So, beware: avoid excess or don’t exaggerate with things.
3. Vamos a echarnos los palos | Let’s go throw some sticks
In English it sounds confusing, because it’s somehow similar to the idiom “give or take a lot of stick from someone,” in which stick stands for “criticism, disapproval or judgement.” But in Venezuela, you are probably happy to throw some sticks.
It comes from colonial times, when Simon Bolivar was around. When the plantation owners paid their employees, they didn’t use coins but sticks with plantations’ marks on them instead. Sometimes, the workers would forget about the need for groceries, and trade those sticks for rum or other alcoholic beverages. That is why, even today, a group of Venezuelan friends might invite you to go spend your paycheck in drinks with this line.
4. Ni lava ni presta la batea | He doesn’t do the laundry, nor he let you use the bucket.
In Spanish we also say “no come ni deja comer” and “no vive ni deja vivir” (he doesn’t eat but won’t let you have it either, and he doesn’t live or let others live). I am sure you get the meaning by now… and I am also pretty certain that you know one of these people… In English, you could say that person has a Dog in the Manger attitude.
5. ¿Y cómo sabes tú que La Guaira es lejos? | How do you know that La Guaira is far away?
La Guaira is a city relatively close to Caracas, Venezuela. Nowadays, there are highways and it’s easy to get to La Guaira. However, in the past it used to be a long, difficult and dangerous road, making it hard for most people to visit the place. When people ask you about the road to La Guaira, what they really question is how come you pretend to know so much about something, when you are actually not familiar with it. Truth is they are probably not interested in your answer… they just want to state that they don’t trust your opinion.
6. Niño que nace barrigón, ni que lo fajen de chiquito | If a child is born with a big tummy, remains so even if you make him wear a girdle or a belt.
In the old days, in Venezuela, they actually did this in order to protect their belly button and keep it from getting infected, with a special gauze, and soft stretchy material girdle wrapped around their little tummy, till it dried out and came off. It means that old habits are hard to break… or that “a leopard can’t change his spots.”. It can also be used as an equivalent of “even if dressed in silk, a monkey remains a monkey”.
7. Más lejos que cuadra llanera | Longer than a plain’s street block
Think about the New York Minute… Now reverse it and apply it to space instead of time. A cuadra llanera refers to a long distance, so long it can not actually be considered a street block. It’s gives away that the location you are looking for is where the devil lost his poncho.
8. Se quedó como la guayabera | He was like a guayabera shirt
Guayabera shirts are a loose type of shirt used in the Caribbean… to fully understand the meaning, you have to know that Guayabera shirts are always worn on top of pants, untucked. So when you are like a guayabera, it means you are left out. Sorry, buddy, you are not invited to the fiesta.
9. Dando más vuelta que mamón en boca de vieja | Spinning more than a Spanish lime in an old lady’s mouth
Sometimes the idiom is used to misusing idle time, and some others to describe an activity that is so hard it’s almost pointless. This is because in order to eat a Spanish lime, you must suck it for quite a while, since the thin flesh is sticked to the seed. And in the case of older people, it’s harder for them to “scratch” the surface with their teeth, so… you get the picture.
10. En grado treinta y tres | On 33 degree
No, it doesn’t have to do with temperatures or latitude. It refers to a well-kept secret. In masonry, being granted the 33 degree is an honor, something that a man cannot apply to, but rather be granted to him by pairs. In Venezuela, we say to inform you that the information you are being confined in is extremely confidential.
11. Como Canaima, cada quien trae su vaina | Like in Canaima, bring your own
Canaima is one of the most beautiful virgin areas in Venezuela. Since population is scarce, when you go there you must bring everything that you may need. So, if someone is throwing a Canaima party… you better show up with some drinks and food, or you will be embarrassed, hungry and thirsty!
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