“False cognates are words in one language that are identical or very similar to words in a second language, but whose meanings are different. These are sometimes called ‘false friends’ because they are recognizable in form but undependable in meaning.” (1001 Pitfalls in Spanish, p. 274)
Upon entering a foreign culture we often seek comfort in elements of the dependable and the familiar. But on many occasions, expectations do not align with reality. I can think of several examples with regard to food and, more recently, with holiday celebrations.
Our “false friends” can sometimes lead us down the wrong path, with embarrassing, yet humorous results. For example, if you were to walk into a supermarket and ask for “tuna sin preservativos” you would, in fact, be asking for a “prickly pear without a condom.” Super kinky, right? Then after committing your innocent linguistic error, you might feel compelled to apologize and state that you’re very “embarazada,” which amounts to being pregnant. Watch out for those prickly pears. J
Another thing to beware of is the ketchup. As most of my close friends already know, I love (umm…no, LOVE!) condiments and will always reserve a special place in my heart for Heinz 57. I used to put that stuff on eggs, burgers, baked potatoes, etc., and in disturbingly large quantities. Although you can certainly find “ketchup” in Peru, a product “recognizable in form,” the content is way different and way bad. Not sure how to describe that shit, other than “sugary tomato goop”?
Pizza, another favorite comfort food, also tends to lead me down a driveway of disappointment. Whenever I spot a new pizzeria in town I will become ridiculously excited, expecting and hoping for the crisp crust, savory tomato sauce, and hot, melted mozzarella of my native New York. Once again, my dreams are dashed--- this time by cardboard crust and the inappropriate use of ham.
With regard to the holidays, it was certainly difficult to accept the advent of Christmas this year, without the crisp, cold New England winter or seasonal sightings of Santa Claus. Initially, I was relieved when people began to deck their halls, sometime between December 10th and 14th. But after a small sampling of the decorative efforts, I was ready to throw every strand of glittery garland into the ocean. By far, the Christmas tree in the Plaza took the prize for most tacky imitation of “American” custom and culture. As you can see in the photo below, this year’s holiday season was brought to you by plastic, paper-mache, and Coca-Cola.
However, when you stop looking for customs, culture, and cuisine that are “recognizable in form” you become more open to embracing all that is unique and amazing about where you are, right here and right now. These days, instead of lusting after ketchup, I’ve made Huancaina my new boyfriend. Sure, the pizza sucks but the ceviche is out-of-this-world. And on Christmas Eve, I had the unique pleasure of gathering with my Peruvian family, drinking hot cocoa and waiting for the strike of midnight, at which point we exchanged hugs, placed baby Jesus in the manger, then joined our neighbors in the street for a champagne toast (followed shortly by exploding cherry bombs).
Although the past several months have certainly been marked by growing pains, I believe the greatest indicator of integration occurred on New Year’s Eve. Amid a group of friends, hailing from Cusco, Connecticut, and places in between, I participated in a Peruvian drinking circle and consumed BEER! My close friends and family know that I strongly dislike beer, but after some initial moments of doubt hesitation, I found that the local hops and barley are not too offensive! Either this is a sign of personal growth, or the impending apocalypse. I give up. I give in.