From Acapulco, Mexico, expat school teacher Brandon Brewer files from south of the border, where life is more than drunken frat rats and cheap margaritas, and not everything is gay.
One day I was putting up flyers around the school to advertise a scholarship program to the students. I entered one class and began taping a paper — hoja in Spanish — up to the window. I asked one of the students if the hoja was crooked, to which he yells to some girls standing outside the door, “Hey! Brandon wants to know if he has it crooked.” (“Quiere saber si la tiene chueca.”) I held back the laughter shaking my head in disapproval, while making a mental note of the joke for future use.
Just to provide a little language lesson: La (or “it”) is the direct object here and replaces la hoja, or “the flyer.” However, one with their mind in the gutter could possibly “misinterpret” the la as not replacing la hoja but la verga—a crude way to refer to the masculine member.
Now in my second stint living in Mexico, I’ve come to better understand what is now my favorite part of the language and culture: los albures, or the Spanish version of double entendres, usually goosed with a sexual connotation. Remember in grade school when someone would say they were going to “do it,” or had “done it,” and everyone would immediately take it out of context, “Eww, gross! You’re gonna do it with who!?” Well, it’s like that, but a bit more complex. Anything you say can be used against you … in the court of social opinion.
When I first lived in Mexico, in Guadalajara, I didn’t catch on to los albures. Fast-forward to the numerous times where I was the only one not laughing. But, I was indeed aware of them. In fact the first thing I was usually quizzed on when locals pegged me as a foreigner was my understanding of albures: “Do you know what albures are? Do you understand them?” And the fact that they often asked with such pride, like a little kid asking if you’ve seen their bug collection, gave me a sense of their importance within Mexican identity. Armando Jiménez, the Mexican author behind a book about albures’ role in popular culture (Picardía mexicana), champions them as a defining characteristic of the national culture.
Of course, not everyone uses albures. My supervisor at the university where I teach English, for example, never used any, at least not in my presence. And there are certainly times when albures are inappropriate. But, both friends and students albur-ed me so much I began to learn the rules of the game.
My landlords own a restaurant downstairs where, every morning, I order scrambled eggs with frijoles and tortillas. Sometimes I change things up and wander over to the girls selling bagged jugo de naranja around the block. Once I decided to switch up my order and naively asked for some milk—leche. You can probably guess the double meaning. Of course the owner, Don Miguel, jumped at the opportunity, “¡Ora! ¡Quiere leche con sus huevos!” Perhaps I should have clarified that I wanted cow milk before they could erupt in laughter, although that probably would have dug myself even deeper.
Another time, I had just purchased a brand new guitar so I could start taking lessons. I told my friend Blanca that I’d play it for her whenever she wanted: “Te la toco cuando quieras.” If you’ve got a loose understanding with Spanish, you know I just set myself up. Tocar not only means “to play,” but also “to touch.” I just offered to touch it whenever she wanted.
Admittedly, in the beginning this style of humor really got on my nerves — until I realized how fun it is when I join in and torment someone else! But it’s more than cracking jokes; it’s being able to participate in and enjoy an aspect of the culture that many Mexicans take pride in.
As I was saying goodbye to some students outside the school, we decided to take a small group photo. “Me la sacas?” I asked one of the students, which in this context means, “Will you take my picture?” However, knowing that it could also translate as “Will you pull it out?,” I jumped to clarify what it was before they could get me: “¡La foto! ¡La foto!”
Brandon Brewer is a Fulbright scholar living in Mexico. Read more about his travels down south here, at his blog.