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To be fair, the competition here is kitty vs. vaca. What I’m talking about is what you call it when you put a bunch of money into the communal pot, to be used equitably for whatever is in store.

In the states, we call it putting money in the kitty. I think I even remember it from my dreidl-playing days, which are far removed from the present time, sadly, though perhaps in a nostalgia-infused moment of insanity I will fry potato latkes here in the middle of summer, and invite people over to play dreidl for Channukah, or your spelling of choice. Goodness knows Chile grows enough potatoes.

So in the states we have a kitty. You put money in it. In college in my modular housing unit (Mod, for short), we had the money in a brass teakettle on top of the YES fridge in the kitchen. In a house of ten people, we had a YES fridge for things that you could eat today and a NO fridge for things that were recipe ingredients for the giant vegetarian meals we would all share and enjoy, except for that once with the terrible teaspoon/tablespoon mishap with the cayenne pepper that rendered the chili 7 alarm or higher and practically inedible. So in this case, we put money in the kettle ($20 a week, and we ate like vegetarian kings), but even as a kettle, it was still a kitty. Plus they sound similar. Kettle, kitty. Try it.

So here in Chile, we don’t put money in anything, hacemos una vaca (we make a cow). This is what you do when everyone has to put in the same amount of money for a specific event, to be spent collectively. I’ve made cows on road trips, and even at parties for late-night beer runs. The first time I was asked to make a cow was on a very unpleasant trip with a friend’s exhusband, who, as a joke, had secreted a giant rock in my backpack with the words “souvenir from X place” (place kept a secret so as not to embarass my friend who had the misfortune to marry this rock-secreter to begin with) emblazoned on it in a childish hand in black sharpie.

Make a cow, I said? And it was explained to me. And it all seemed so silly, so nonsequiterish, so Chilean. Until last night when my new best friend and hopefully soon president Barack Obama used the word “kitty” in the debate. And in addition to liking him for a thousand other reasons, I now like him because he made me hold my own language under a microscope. What more could you want?