border jumper

Forget Leading a Double Life. Try Wrestling With Double Meanings

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.

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  • tavdy79

    Here’s a wonderful one, and it’s all in English:

    “I’ve got khaki pants”, said with a Southern or Texan accent, sounds to Brits like “I’ve got cacky pants”; cack is a British slang for shit, and of course in the UK pants means underwear, not trousers…

  • naprem

    So clarify something for me – they do still understand your intended meaning, right? They just make the joke and then go back to the proper interpretation? Otherwise how would you ever get the milk you asked for? And does it not get a bit exhausting when they refuse to take anything seriously?

  • Frunced

    Funny, my favourite will always be:

    ¿Cuántas venas tiene el chile?



  • Frunced


    Although it is considered déclassé to aknowledge the double entendre -not to mention that albures were originally the exclusive domain of working class, insecure, macho, straight men; sometimes one cannot help but laugh at foreigners’ struggle with this aspect of Mexican culture. It is good for a laugh or two if the speaker is innocently using verbs like “coger” (literally: grab, but in Latin America it is the most common euphemism for fuck), “sacar”, “tocar”, “jalar” (take out, touch and pull, respectively), but no normal person would make a big deal about it. Sadly, as it happens in every country in the world, some of Mexico’s young males tend to be juvenile, crass, a little on the dumb side, and not particularly funny.

    Does that help?

  • Me

    Here in Puerto Rico, many of these expressions and terms are the same as the ones this writer describes (except for orange juice being jugo de china :-). Like in English, you might say you want some guy’s “cream”, Puerto Ricans will say “leche” but it’s not any more complex than its English counterpart. The situation dictates how you read/understand it.

  • Ian

    This article is pretty funny. I’ve had my share of embarrassments with Spanish.

    Must be cool living down there, though. I love Puerto Vallarta, and Mexican guys.

  • TANK

    This was hilarious. This reminds me of the time I got lost in spanish harlem, and asked some guys for directions and they took turns beating and raping me because they thought I was asking for…directions…actually, they spoke english, too. That’s not funny.

  • Sexto Grado

    There’s a psychological term for this: Chronic Sixth Grader Mentality Syndrome.

    The variant that runs through college frat houses is called “That’s What She Said”-itis.

  • Punchy Pinguino

    In response to NO. 5 and the article por lo general….

    I was in Mexico studying outside at a cafe. A dad and his daughter walked out and as they were passing on the sidewalk in front of me the ninya spilled her drink… some sort of smoothie. An employee came rushing out and asked me if my things were all right (the smoothie had kind of blobbed across the sidewalk onto my backpack) I responded, “Si.Estoy bien. Pero no eche la leche en la banqueta.” I thought I was saying “Yeah, I am fine. But I didnt spill the milk on the sidewalk.” Apparently….por casualidad y por culpa de los albures/modisimos I said. “I am fine. But I didnt cum on the sidewalk”

    AWKWARD. He gave me is number… en serio… right after raping and beating me. En serio.

  • Frunced

    Blah, then I’m done trying to save my people. Mexico’s surrealism can sometimes surpass any form of coherent human thought. Then again, America’s way more filled of surprises than we are, isn’t it? We make the news like once every blue moon in a gay blog (usually because some homo got killed, which happens everyday down here), whereas America gives us second by second Britney updates, and before that, we had MJ, Madonna, the Zodiac killer, etc, etc, etc, etc, etc.

  • f123

    So they play with words, its really not that hard to understand the hidden meaning, Spanish is a very complex language so it makes it easier to use the same words in many different ways.

  • Frunced

    I guess it would be funny in any language to say “mine’s crooked” in the right context.

  • Chucho E. Quintero

    OMG! How cute is it that an american man is trying to crack the code behind albures? :)
    I think the american equivalent to albures is closer to the “That’s what she said” jokes than anything else.
    I remember one day when a friend and I were having dinner with some filmmakers in a film festival here in Mexico and one of them, a girl, said, in reference to her hot soup: “Oh, it’s ok, I like to blow things…”, and, as the only two mexicans on the table, we look at each other smiling, silently realizing mexicans never get bored thanks to our beautiful and unique sense of humor.
    :) Cheers!

  • *J_C*

    Chucho E. Quintero
    thats so true very few people forget that if you really want to laugh it all depends on you lol

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