World Book Day & What I’m Reading

AmorToday is World Book and Copyright Day, promoting reading, publishing and copyright and also Spanish Language Day so while I listen to the live streaming of the national Gabolectura a simultaneous reading of Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s No One Writes to The Colonel across Colombia’s libraries, plazas and parks – I figure it’s a good time to share what I’m currently reading in Spanish.

I’ve written before about the disappointing lack of a reading culture in Colombia, yet the death of the nation’s most famous author and Nobel Prize in Literature winner Gabriel Garcia Marquez last Thursday has catapulted literature and reading to the front page and top of mind in all Colombians. In response to the passing of this national icon (although he lived in Mexico) the country is in mourning and the government has organised a week of activities celebrating his life and literature. One of the initiatives is today’s national reading of his novella No One Writes to the Colonel and giving away over 12,000 copies of the book to promote reading and to encourage families to read aloud. So great is the movement that mi novio, who rarely picks up a book, has said that now he wants to read Gabo’s most famous work One Hundred Years of Solitude. I hope he will, and I hope that it encourages others to read his work and savour delicious descriptions and eccentric characters. I know am.

I have to admit to reading very little apart from the newspaper in Spanish. When I read novels I like to devour them and reading in Spanish is a much slower process for me, however I like to always have a book in Spanish on the go alongside another in English. For Christmas mi novio gave me Amor by Isabel Allende. It is an anthology of stories of love in all its forms with a personal commentary and Isabel’s own memories followed by selected passages from her books. I think it is the perfect format for non-native Spanish speakers and it definitely suits my reading style in Spanish as it includes short excerpts from books I’ve already read in English and I can easily pick it up and read a few pages and put it down again without losing the sentiment between readings. It’s also nice to know I’m reading her actual words and not those of the translator interpreting her phrases into English equivalents.

So, while I’m reading a book in Spanish by a Chilean author on this day of international celebration of books and Spanish language, I’d like to encourage you to add a book by a Latin American or Spanish author to your reading list and open your mind to another perspective.


Terms of Endearment

I remember my Argentinian teacher of Spanish back in Melbourne telling me that Colombians are muy cariñoso. Meaning they are warm and cutesy, especially when it comes to describing things.

Colombians will often go overboard on the cutesy-fying by adding -cita/o or -ica/o or ita/o to the end of any word. A cute cat is not a gato, it is a gatico. To describe something soft they will say suavecita not suave. You don’t just have a juice because your jugo becomes jugito. Adding these suffixes becomes a gentle way of describing things and actions. It’s quite adorable and I have been guilty of using multiple cutesy suffixes in one sentence for example in reference to seeing a new lamb with the flock of sheep that walked past my office window daily I exclaimed “Ooooh! Es un bebecito corderito rather than simply saying “Ooooh! Es un cordero.”

Another type of diminutive is mami and papi. The Spanish equivalent of mum and dad is mama y papa and so when we say mummy and daddy they say mami y papi. Easy enough to figure out, right? That is except for the fact that mami and papi are also general adorable descriptions for anyone. Parents will call their daughter mami and their son papi. Grandparents will call their grandchildren mami or papi. People will call their partners mami or papi. And complete strangers like bus drivers and shop owners will call you mami or papi. It’s quite confusing and there is no parental relationship required for the moniker.

For example, on the bus the other day I climbed into the front seat (always my favourite place to sit in Santa Marta’s dilapidated mini vans that swerve down the streets with the side sliding door jammed permanently open) the driver said to me “Shut the door well mami“. Had I been fresher off the plane, I think I would have been slightly offended by this, but now the indiscriminate use of mami and papi is nothing to bat an eyelid at.

It should also be noted that mami is far more respectful than mamacita, something that is more of a phoar or catcall in the street and something I haughtily turn my nose up at.

Whilst it’s not solely Colombians who use diminutives, they certainly take it to a whole other level in comparison to other latinos.

So rather than signing off with chau, or bye, I will say chauito.

What are your favourite Spanish diminutives?

PS Partway through drafting this post, la suegra used tareaitas (little homework) when speaking to D about having to do his homework. I’d never heard that one before!

Stationery shopping

I really love shopping for stationery. There is nothing better than wandering around Officeworks, plying the stationery aisles of Kmart, making a round of Kikki K or Smiggle, or longingly browsing a boutique stationer. I just love it.

Here in Latin America it is quite a different shopping experience.

On my first day of Spanish classes, I found a papeleria where instead of wandering around, touching and feeling items that arouse curiosity, everything is behind a glass case, or tucked away on a shelf out back somewhere. So you have to ask for what you want. On Spanish Class Day 1 I was just looking for a notebook, a cuaderno. It is also important to ask for one with lineas, or lines, as the majority of latinos write on that graph paper with little squares. I don`t really understand that one at all. Perhaps a question to ask my teacher tomorrow.

At the end of classes last week, I needed something to put my photocopied handouts in. I asked my teacher to tell me the name of the plastic pocket he had, and he said separador plasticos. I probably should have used this terminology at the papeleria because when I said “Estoy buscando por algo para proteger mis hojas” (I`m looking for something to protect my pages”) the joker responded “¿Policia?”. It was quite funny and I laughed a lot. Instead of a plastic pocket, I got one of those coloured plastic things you close using the string and two circles. I am still debating the functionality of these closures.

Anyways, todays papeleria outing was for paperclips. While in the library doing my homework, I asked a couple of guys at the same table how to say paperclip, since I happened to have a sole example with me. It was funny to hear that the answer was “clip”. That is pretty easy to remember, and the girl at the papeleria knew exactly what I was after when I asked.

Whilst stationery shopping is rather different than in Australia, there are good points too. I only wanted a few paperclips, I didn`t need a whole box, so when I asked for 15 paperclips it wasn`t a strange request. It saves a whole lot of waste instead of buying everything in bulk like we seem to do at home and are constantly pressured into doing by retailers.

So my papeleria expenses so far are:

  • cuaderno, 200 page, A5 = $2,500 pesos
  • plastic folder = $2,500 pesos
  • 15 paperclips = $350 pesos

A grand total of $5,350 Colombian pesos or AUD$2.85 (the paperclips cost 18 cents).

Stay tuned for more papeleria shopping trips!