I just read a feature in El Tiempo called 22 frases que caracterizan a un colombiano en cualquier parte del mundo (22 phrases that will identify a Colombian anywhere in the world). As these kinds of linguistic jumbles are wont to do, it disappointed. Many of the phrases are not even close to being uniquely Colombian. I’m sure you’ve experienced this before, when someone teaches you that por si las moscas or nunca digas “de esta agua no beberé” and the like are, like, soooo quintessentially Mexican/Salvadoran/Colombian/Bolivian! Um, no. No, they’re not. Phrases like those and hundreds of others are used pretty much everywhere. Of course, it’s difficult to know which phrases and words “belong” to your country and which ones are open source, and it’s natural to want to claim certain words and phrases to boost regional pride and identity. I never say that a certain word or phrase is uniquely American, because the odds are good that they use it in England/New Zealand/Jamaica/India/etc., too. Not that this kind of imprecision ruffles my feathers or anything, it’s just that I appreciate knowing what’s used where. And I do enjoy bandying about uniquely Colombian words and phrases to ratchet up my Colombianness . . . but many of these phrases just won’t be the ticket. Let’s look at some of them.
1. A mí me gustan las cuentas claras y el chocolate espeso – (Knew it. Not uniquely Colombian.)
Literal translation: I like my accounts clear and my chocolate thick.
Translation: I like to keep money matters transparent, but I like my hot chocolate nice and creamy.
Meaning: Short reckonings make long friends.
I like to keep money matters and debts (cuentas) transparent, and my hot chocolate thick and creamy. I know, whaa? In a drink, claro and espeso are opposites, claro/clarito meaning well watered-down, weak, and thin, and espeso being nice and thick/creamy/frothy, as well as cargado (like strong coffee). You’re comparing two completely unrelated things, but just to say that each thing should be as it’s supposed to be. There’s a time for everything . . . but when its time comes, that thing better be just as it should be. There’s a time for being clear, and there’s a time for being dense. Don’t be trying to make what you owe me all murky and convoluted and bogged down with small print; that’s for my hot chocolate! And what are you doing serving me this sissy hot chocolate where it’s so thin that I can see the bottom of the cup? Save that no-BS, straight-to-the-point transparency for when we sit down to talk about when you’re going to pay off your debts with me! As you can see, the phrase really has nothing to do with hot chocolate; it’s just a rhetorical device. The best way to drink hot chocolate is nice and thick, and the best way to handle debts is by playing things by the book and settling them as soon as possible. Transparency is of the essence . . . except for when we’re talking about hot chocolate, of course.
Variants and similar phrases (the phrases with “y el chocolate espeso” are definitely used in Spain; the other, chocolateless versions seem to be used in many countries):
Las cuentas claras y el chocolate espeso (Apparently sometimes one person simply says las cuentas claras, and the other person chimes in with the second part)
Las cosas claras y el chocolate espeso (Call things by their name, call a spade a spade)
El agua clara y el chocolate espeso
Cuentas claras, amistades largas
Las cuentas claras conservan la amistad
Also, confession time: Colombians like to “thicken” their hot chocolate with something that I find, well, rather odd. (I’m sure it’s delicious, but I just can’t get over my mental prejudice.) They like to dunk cheese in their hot chocolate, let it melt, and then spoon it out, nice and melty and stringy. I like cheese almost as much as the next gal, but I’ll be damned if I’ll let it gunk up a perfectly delicious mug of hot chocolate! Why they haven’t realized the vastly superior virtues of miniature marshmallows in the cheese’s stead, I couldn’t tell you. Also, I think it might be a very Bogotá thing. I guess they could change the phrase to a mí me gustan las cuentas claras y el chocolate con queso without making a dent in the meter or rhyme. Look, we can nibble on cheese while talking about money; I might even be willing to accept cheese as payment if it’s really fancy or if the debt is minimal. BUT KEEP YOUR CHEESY PAWS OFF MY HOT CHOCOLATE! I’ll take cheese in my money matters if I must, go ahead and cheese it up to the max, even, but I’m gonna have to say ixnay on the hot chocolate cheese. Anywhere but my hot chocolate. Thank you. I, um, just needed to get that off my chest. And I know we eat and drink plenty of weird things in the U.S., too. Don’t take it personally, Colombia. I find it charming . . . just not for me, not for now.
More phrases to come!