Wednesday, 2 October 2013

Italian (Neapolitan) proverb

Neapolitan proverb:  A lavà ‘a capa ‘o ciuccio se perde acqua e sapone

Italian version:  A lavare la testa all'asino si spreca acqua e sapone

English translation:  Washing the donkey’s head wastes water and soap.   

What do you think this proverb means?

(a)  The proverb is about the inevitability of destiny.  It says that whatever we do to try to change/improve someone's outward appearance, that person will always be the same underneath.  

(b)  The proverb advises us not to spend our time trying to reason with a stubborn and unreasonable person because our efforts will be wasted.  

(c)  The proverb expresses the futility of trying to fix a problem when it will only come back again. If you wash the donkey's head, five minutes later it will be dirty again.  

The answer is (b).  The donkey represents a stubborn unreasonable person, and the soap and water represent the time and effort we waste trying to make the person see reason.  For more Neapolitan proverbs, check out Tony's Italian blog. 

Thanks to Mike's friend Giancarlo for sharing this proverb.  

Sunday, 22 September 2013

Colombian proverb 2

Colombian proverb:  A papaya puesta, papaya partida.

English translation:  Papaya served; papaya eaten.

What do you think this proverb means?

(a)  This is a proverb about being thankful for what you are given.  For example, when going to dinner at somebody's house, you should eat everything your host serves you.  

(b)  This is a proverb about seizing opportunities.  It means that when somebody offers you an opportunity, you should take advantage of it before somebody else does.

(c)  This is a proverb about protecting yourself.  It means that if you leave yourself open to being taken advantage of, you will be taken advantage of.

The correct answer is (c).  It is a warning about being taken advantage of and can be applied to many situations:  In relationships, if you are behave like a doormat, others will walk all over you.  While walking, if you keep your wallet in your back pocket, you leave yourself open to pickpockets.  Another use is when a teenage girl dresses provocatively, her mother might tell her to change her outfit because 'papaya served is papaya eaten.'  

Thank you to my student Milagro for sharing this proverb

Spanish proverb

Spanish proverb:  Camarón que se duerme, se lo lleva la corriente.

English translation:  The shrimp that falls asleep is carried away by the current.

What do you think this proverb means?

(a)  The proverb is about the importance of rest and relaxation.   

(b)  The proverb is about staying alert to danger.  

(c)  The proverb is about taking advantage of opportunities.  

The answer is (c).  If you don't pay attention to what is going on around you, you may miss out on opportunities.  

This proverb has been shared by many of my students over the years, from many different Spanish-speaking countries.  Thank you also to the Prison Arts Coalition and artist Chris M. for permission to use this picture.  

Friday, 20 September 2013

Brazilian proverb

Brazilian proverb:  Água mole em pedra dura, tanto bate até que fura

English translation:  Water hitting day by day wears the hardest rock away. 

This proverb means that if you persist with something that seems hard, eventually you will succeed.  The values expressed are those of patience, perseverance, hard work, which are international proverb themes.  Below are more proverbs with the same or similar theme:  

Mongolia:  A man falls seven times and gets up eight times.
China:  A jade stone is useless before it's carved.
Russia:  Without effort it's not easy even to pull a fish from a pond.
Dominican Republic:  Slowly and calmly a donkey climbs a palm tree.
Vietnam:  Grind iron with patience; one day you'll have a needle.
China:  A thousand meter building is built from the ground.

Thank you to my student Milena for sharing this proverb, and to my colleague Marcela for helping with the editing process.

Interactive proverb

English proverb:  Every cloud has a silver lining

What better picture to illustrate this proverb than this one taken on a cloudy day in Orta, Italy.

So, now for something completely different ..... an interactive proverb blog post!  It's all about reader participation, so please comment (below) with an example of a situation in which you might say (or did say) 'every cloud has a silver lining.'  

Thanks, and I look forward to reading your comments and stories!!!  

English proverb

English language proverb:  If the hat fits, wear it!

Disclaimer:  I've included this proverb because I couldn't resist the opportunity to show off this picture of my three children, taken in April 1995, and what better way than to feature it in a proverb?

This proverb is used in situations where you are talking in general terms, and someone asks you if you are referring to him/her.  For example, if I say 'Spanish people seem to be more trusting than Americans' (see my post on this topic from my sabbatical blog) and if my Spanish friend asks 'are you talking about me?' then I might say 'if the hat fits, wear it.'  This means that it's up to her to judge whether or not she is included in the generalization.  She can decide, based on her own assessment of her character, whether the description fits her.  

Greek proverb

Greek proverb:  

English translation:  The fish smells rotten from the head first.

What do you think this proverb means?

(a)  The proverb is about corruption in an organization.  When things rot or go bad, the rot starts at the higher levels of the company and then travels down.   

(b)  The proverb is about over-thinking.  If you think too much, or become obsessed, about something, you may cause psychological damage which can negatively affect every aspect of your life.

(c)  The proverb is about pride.  When you get too conceited, or 'big-headed', things are going to start going wrong in your life.  The proverb advises us not to become too self important, because pride comes before a fall.

The answer is (a).  Corruption starts at the top. For example, when a company goes bankrupt or gets into trouble, you can usually find that the trouble started at the executive level.  Click here to see more Greek proverbs.

Thanks to my colleague Lindi for sharing this proverb, and my son Corin for this photograph

Friday, 21 June 2013

Syrian proverb

Syrian proverb:  على قدر بساطك مد رجليك

English translation:   Stretch your legs as far as your rug allows.

What do you think this proverb means? 

(a)  The proverb is about the importance of experience as a way to understand the world.  Instead of getting an education only through books, it says we should experience life for ourselves.  

(b)  The proverb is about setting ourselves high goals, and pushing (i.e. stretching) ourselves to achieve them.  It says that anything in life is possible if we work hard enough.  

(c)  The proverb is about knowing your limits.  The rug represents a person's place in life, and says that we shouldn't try to be something we are not.  

Although most people from Western cultures would choose (b) as the best interpretation, the answer is (c).  According to  The Canadian Centre for Intercultural Learningsocial classes are very defined and dictate your future in Syrian society.   Social classes in Syria have different lifestyles, and mobility between classes is low.  This proverb represents values that are the opposite from typical Western values which encourage children to set high goals and 'reach for the stars.'  A similar proverb in Egypt, 'stretch your legs as far as the edge allows' is similar, but carries an additional meaning of fiscal responsibility: i.e. only buy what you can afford.  

Thanks to my student Omar for sharing this proverb, and my colleague Afraim for helping in the editing process.

Haitian proverb

Haitian proverb:  Wòch la nan dlo a pa konnen doulè a ​​nan wòch la nan solèy la

French version:  Le rocher dans l'eau ne connaît pas la douleur de la roche au soleil

English translation:  The rock in the water doesn't know the pain of the rock in the sun

This proverb has a similar meaning to two of the other proverbs on this blog.  It is about empathy; the importance of making an effort to understand the point of view of others. The Puerto Rican proverb, 'nobody knows what's in the pot but the one who's stirring it', and the Turkish proverb, 'fire burns where it falls' address the same theme.  Like those, this proverb implies that you can never really know what another person feels.  In eight years of learning about proverbs from around the world, I have found this to be one of the most common international themes.  

When I first heard this particular proverb I was confused because I assumed that the student must have it backwards.  Surely a rock in the sun would be better off than a rock in the water, not the other way round?  Then I realized that I hadn't taken into account where the proverb was from:  Not England -- my point of reference for proverb interpretation -- but Haiti!  Oops!  Major perspective adjustment needed!  Illustrates the point of the proverb perfectly.....

Thanks to my student Guirlene for sharing this proverb.  

Chinese proverb

English translation:  Water not only floats a boat; it also sinks it.


Meaning:  This is a proverb about 'yin' and 'yang',  a central idea in Chinese philosophy.  Many things in life have opposite properties; for example, we need water to live, but we can also drown in water.  To get through life we need to form relationships with other people; however, relationships can also hurt us.  The sun gives us light, vitamin D,  and .... skin cancer.   Although bacteria make us sick and can even kill us, there are  'good' bacteria that our bodies need to be healthy.   Finally, in the words of another proverb:  Fire is a good servant but a bad master.  

For further reading about 'yin' and 'yang', see the links below:

The philosophy and theory of yin and yang

Yin yang, two symbols

Thanks to my student Qian Gao for sharing this proverb

Colombian proverb 1

Colombian proverb:  El pez muere por la cabeza.

English translation:  The fish dies from the head.

What do you think this proverb means?

(a)  This proverb is a warning about over-confidence.  It's similar to the English proverb 'Pride comes before a fall.'
(b)  This proverb is a warning about being impulsive.  Don't be too quick to grab an opportunity you are offered.  Instead, be cautious; find out more details before you act.  

(c)  This proverb is a warning about talking too much.  Sometimes it's better to stay quiet and keep what we know to ourselves.  

The correct answer is (c).  This proverb is a warning that opening our mouth can get us in trouble; sometimes we need to keep quiet. Another proverb with a similar meaning from the Spanish-speaking world is:  In a closed mouth, no flies enter.  Proverbs from other countries that express this value include the following:

South Korea:  The word can move 1000 miles without feet.
Russia:  The word is not a sparrow; if it flies out, you can't catch it.

Thanks to my student Sonia for sharing this proverb.

Turkish Proverb

Turkish proverb:  Ateş düştüğü yeri yakar.

English translation:  Fire burns where it falls.

What do you think this proverb means?

(a)  It is a proverb about being careful.  It means you should pay careful attention to potentially dangerous situations so that you will be prepared and can avoid them.  

(b)  It is a proverb about pain.  It means that pain is suffered the most by the person or people who experience it.  We cannot really understand the suffering of others if we have not experienced what they are going through.

(c)  It is a proverb about hope and perseverence.  It means that even when something bad happens to us, we need to keep going in hopes that the situation will improve in the future.  

The correct answer is (b).  Pain is suffered most by the one who has experienced it.  This proverb recognizes that we cannot really understand what another person is going through because the 'fire' is 'burning' them, not us.  

This website has much more about Turkish proverbs

Thanks to my student Hatice for sharing this proverb.  

Czech Republic proverb

Czech Proverb:  Kam vítr, tam plást

English translation:  Where the wind blows, goes the coat.

What do you think this proverb means?

(a)  The proverb is about having no fixed position on a topic.  It describes a person who changes his/her opinion based on what he/she thinks others want to hear.  

(b)  The proverb is about being prepared.  It describes a person who plans ahead for all eventualities; for example, if the weather forecast is for wind, that person brings a coat.

(c)  The proverb is about flexibility.  It describes the ability to adapt to changing situations and technologies.  

The answer is (a).  This proverb is used to describe a negative characteristic; the tendency to change one's mind multiple times in order to always seem to be agreeing with the prevailing opinion or popular viewpoint on a topic.  In US politics, this has become known as 'flip-flopping.'

Thanks to my student Pavla for sharing this proverb, and to the author of Ara-bomshell's blog for permission to use her photo.  

Puerto Rican Proverb

Puerto Rican proverb:  Nadie sabe lo que hay en el bote pero el que lo está removiendo

English translation:  Nobody knows what’s in the pot but the one who’s stirring it

What do you think this proverb means?

(a)  It's a proverb about work, similar to the English proverb 'too many cooks spoil the broth'.  It means that you shouldn't have too many people working on the same project.  

(b)  It is a proverb about maintaining control.  It means that if you want something done properly, you should do it yourself.  (For example, if you buy prepared meals, you can never be sure what is in them).  

(c)  It's a proverb about tolerance and understanding.  It means you shouldn't make assumptions/judgements about other people because you don't know what they have to deal with in their life. 

The correct answer is (c).  You don't know what's going on in another person's life, so don't judge them.  We have a similar quote from Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird:  'You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view; until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it.'  

Thanks to my student, Maritza, for sharing this proverb; my colleague, Pam, for helping with the editing process; and my cousin Isabella for the picture taken from her limoncello recipe

Moroccan Proverb

Moroccan proverbالجمل لا يمكن أن يرى سنام له، وأنه يمكن أن يرى فقط سنام أخيه

English translation The camel can’t see its hump, it only sees the hump of its brother

What do you think this proverb means?

(a)  I
t is a proverb about humility and tolerance.  The hump represents faults.  It means that people should pay more attention to their own faults and not criticize the faults of others.  

(b)  It 
is a proverb about envy.  The hump represents possessions.  It means that people should not focus on what others have, but instead appreciate their own blessings.  

(c)  It is a proverb about being helpful.  The hump represents human needs.  It means we should focus less on our own needs and wants, and more on helping others.  

The correct answer is (a).  Moroccans value the qualities of humility and tolerance.  

Thanks to my student Youssef for sharing this proverb, and thanks to my colleague Afraim for helping in the editing process.

Vietnamese proverb

Vietnamese proverb:  Khi một con ngựa bị ốm, những con ngựa khác không ăn cỏ

English translation:  When one horse is sick, the other horses don't eat grass.  

What do you think this proverb means?  

(a)  it is a proverb about being careful:  when others get sick, pay attention to what they did, or what they ate, and don't do/eat the same things.  

(b)  it is a proverb about unity/solidarity:  if your friend or family member can't enjoy something, then you also go without that pleasure until you can enjoy it together.   

(c)  it is a proverb about greed; if you take too much of something, you will make yourself sick, and there will not be enough for others.

The correct answer is (b).  Vietnamese society values solidarity and unity within any group or family.  Children are taught that the needs and goals of the group are more important than those of the individual, and expressing individuality is not encouraged.   For more information about the the culture and values of Vietnamese society, from Charles Sturt University in New South Wales, Australia, click here

Thanks to my student Ha for sharing this proverb, and thanks to my colleague Chi for helping in the editing process