I don’t believe you can ever make enough fun of products that are named unfortunately in your language. For example, I was recently in Mendoza, Argentina where I discovered a shampoo called “assy” and a perfume shop called “maggot.” Now isn’t that funny?
But I’ve got the sheer joy and luck (and damn hard work) of also being a Spanish speaker. Which means double the fun, like when I laugh about this lotion sold in the United States, named the equivalent of “mange.”
On a recent trip during which I became glassily and icily entrapped in Seattle (but before the glassy ice arrived, and all we could do was put on two pairs of pants and shuffle down the street in measured steps), Pam and Mr. NEV took me to this crazy import store they know in Seattle, a warehouse of a location, with slimy sodas with things floating in them and products galore, on pallets, in boxes and just generally staring out, begging to be photographed.
Like this beauty (which, in addition to being mamón tostado, is also de lado, or sideways, because my computer doesn’t want to play nice, and I’m at a disadvantage with a dead trackpad and a stupid external mouse and don’t judge, you know how to turn your head to the side). And so we have, mamon tostado.
A mamón is a mamma’s boy, a whiner, nobody’s friend. Tostado means toasted. Or it could also mean angry. I don’t know what an angry mamma’s boy would look like, but I’m pretty sure it wouldn’t be a bag of crackers. Your mileage may vary.
After the mamon, we also have a brand of something or another called Mama Sita. This is probably uniquely funny to me and anyone I know, as when I lived in DC, I used to classify neighborhoods by their “mamacita” factor, the frequency with which I’d be called “mamacita” while walking down the street. Here in Chile the piropos lean more towards mijita, mi reina and preciosa, which, when I first heard them made me laugh, because they seemed so innocent. But have someone hiss preciosa in your ear as you pass by, and you’re suddenly wishing they’d call you mamacita from across the street. Or, you know, buying you this thing:
And then there’s this, which isn’t really unfortunately named, but it reminds me of the word gazebo. When I was a child, I had never heard the word gazebo. I lived in a city, surrounded by Orthodox Jews and the one token Catholic family and then the Greek Orthodox Church and two friends named Teresa and Mary, who lived next door to one another over the candy store and corner market in apartments on Ocean Avenue whose windows should have had grates on them, but didn’t, whose parents would throw coins down to us through straggly trees to buy ice cream from the ice-cream truck when it passed by.
I didn’t know about gazebos.
When I went to summer camp, I had to learn a whole new vocabulary in Hebrew, as different items at camp were called different things. The tzrif was the bunk, the kikar was the giant field between my tzrif and my sister’s, the migrash kadorsall was the basketball court. We didn’t have swimming, we had schia, and if we were lucky schia chofshi (free swim). So when I learned the word gazebo, I assumed, like all the other new words, it was Hebrew.
Living where I did, there were always new words for different items, and many of them I believed to be specific to the person or language group that was saying them. My mother often ate canned fish, mixed with chopped onions, spread on a bagel. She had sardines (the skinny ones), and the fat, headless ones she called sprats. I have to admit, I assumed this was a family word, had never heard it used elsewhere. Until we went to the import store, and I saw this:
So it turns out, gazebo is not Hebrew, the mamma’s boy is mad, you can buy your own Mama Sita, and my mother did not invent the word sprat.
And so ends the parade.