Is it getting super hot where you live, too? Ugh. Today and yesterday I went on walks that were more than an hour, and I got home absolutely drenched in sweat. It doesn’t help matters that I’m in a new house (which I adore!) and can’t figure out the thermostat, meanwhile my roommate’s out of town for the week. Suffice it to say, I’m seriously thinking of sleeping in the kitchen tonight– the only room in the house with a fan. Pajamas completely optional.
As it happens, today the word thermostat came up at work and I drew a total blank. The doctor was talking about the thyroid gland, and at one point he said that he likes to think of the thyroid as our body’s thermostat. Hmm. Didn’t know that one, so I just explained it. Can’t say I ever touched or even saw a thermostat in Colombia. Nor do thermostats come up often in books or music. ♫ Oh, it was first love by the thermostat, baby, ooh ooh ooh ♫
I remembered it later in the day, and the Honduran guy I was talking to didn’t know how to say it either. Then someone looked it up: termostato
Termostato? Sometimes Spanish is just way TOO EASY, as if we couldn’t handle a real word. Is Spanish mocking me? Nah, I prefer to think of it as Spanish doing me another one of her favors. Isn’t she sweet?
While I had my tail between my legs for not knowing how to say thermostat in Spanish, my Honduran friend made me feel better by reminding me that you don’t see thermostats in Latin America because hardly anyone has central heating or air. Excellent point! How had it not occurred to me earlier? The same thing happens when someone peskily insists on a translation for something like a driveway or water fountain. Sure, words exist, but it’s not quite as easy as you might think it should be because these things just aren’t very common in that part of the world (at least in my experience). Can you think of other examples of household words that aren’t culturally relevant in Latin America? (Can’t be food) What about the other way around? I think of the celadores and their little casetas in the neighborhoods of Bogotá. An easy, elegant translation escapes me, but kudos to you if you could translate these ideas at the drop of a hat.
Sometimes it can even be kind of satisfying to be able to say that you can’t really capture something with a translation. To be able to say, well, if you want to experience the ineffable richness of our world, you’re just going to have to learn our language. Your language just won’t do. Not that a thermostat is some deep cultural experience, but I will say that tonight I am valuing it much more than usual now that it’s being all wonky on me. Maybe I will need to write a song to the termostato to thaw him out and get him to warm up to me (and cool down my house!). At least I know how to address him now, and so do you.