Yes, I realize "Lost in Translation" is basically the most cliché title imaginable for an expat blog entry. I can only ask that you bear with me and rest assured that it will make sense in the context of what I'm writing about. Thanks for being a Disco Shawn reader. Your patience is appreciated.
(Cue the innocuous hold music.)
Part of the fun of living in a foreign country is learning the local nuances of a language. Prior to moving to Buenos Aires I had a fairly good handle on the Spanish language, yet my knowledge of colloquial expressions, especially Argentinian ones, was limited. Over the past eight months I have picked up all kinds of local tidbits which are slowly finding their way into my regular vocabulary. From slang to random expressions, there is plenty to learn that one would never come across in the average Spanish class.
While simply learning new phrases and words is interesting, two of my favorite discoveries are Argentinian expressions with a direct translation that anyone with a rudimentary knowledge of Spanish should be able to figure out. The fun part is that the colloquial meaning is something different - not radically different, but different enough to cause some basic confusion.
Phrase #1 - "Entendés?"
At first glance, this one seems simple. It translates as "Do you understand?" As a foreigner it is something I expected to hear and every now and then, especially during complex conversations with unfamiliar vocabulary. Yet shortly after my arrival I noticed that people were saying asking me "entendés?" all the time. I was confused. My accent might scream "yanqui" but I can carry on a normal conversation in Spanish. Was I inadvertently coming off as some kind of imbecile? Did my face have some sort hopelessly puzzled look when I listening to people speak Spanish?
As it turns out, "entendés?" also means something along the lines of "you know?" or "do you know what I'm saying?" Apparently I do not come off as some sort of small-minded Spanish-deficient gringo. Actually, it is totally possible that I do comes across as all those things, but at least I can take solace in that fact that Argentinians asking "entendés?" all the time has nothing to do with it.
Phrase #2 - "Mirá vos"
Again, this seems like an easy translation. Basically, it means "look at you". As an expat, I am often subject to a battery from questions from Argentinians curious about where I am from, what I am doing, how long I have been in Buenos Aires, what I think about Argentina, etc. I have never thought of myself as a big self-promoter or an overly boastful person, so imagine my surprise when people started constantly telling me "mirá vos" in response to my answers. Sure it was nice for my ego to hear people saying "look at you!" all the time, yet most of my statements were anything but worthy of congratulations from complete strangers. Was it really that exciting that I took a trip to Patagonia in March or that I DJed at a local nightclub last week? Most of that stuff is barely interesting to my friends and loved ones, let alone strangers.
After months of confusion, I finally solved the "mirá vos" puzzle. As much as I would like to think that my mundane actions were somehow worthy of praise from total strangers, it turns out that "mirá vos" is used colloquially in the same way that people casually say "that's nice" or "that's cool" in response to someone talking about themselves. Most of the time, "mirá vos" is little more than a placeholder, something to fill the small silences while someone is talking about themselves. Apparently, Argentinians do not think that I'm anything particularly special after all.
So there you go, dear reader. We here at discoshawn.com hope you enjoyed our colloquial Spanish lesson. Thanks for joining us.
(Get it now? The title of this post is "Lost in Translation". See? The post is about subtle meanings that are lost in the translation from Spanish to English. Don't you get it? Aren't I clever?)