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Beloved ‘dichos’: navigating life through Mexico’s folk wisdom

I love dichos, those sayings that we often blurt out to illustrate or lighten the mood in certain situations. In Mexico, it’s not uncommon to hear locals effortlessly pepper their conversations with sayings that seem as curious as they are colorful. To an outsider, these expressions may appear to be amusing linguistic quirks, but in reality, they are profound windows into the cultural fabric that binds Mexicans together. 

Most Mexicans hold a vast repertoire of these nuggets of wisdom. Wrapped within the humor and charm of Mexico’s dichos lies the essence of our identity, and there’s no better way to teach and remind us of our values than through the phrases we’ve heard since childhood.

Beyond their surface humor, each saying carries a wealth of tradition, history and insight. 

In this article, we delve into some of the most popular and endearing phrases, exploring how they reflect Mexican values, beliefs and even the challenges faced by a nation with a complex history.

Remember that dichos don’t translate very well because the humor and recall are in the rhyme, but they are a fun way to practice your Spanish pronunciation and an ace under your sleeve when you need to say something clever.

Cuando el hambre entra por la puerta, el amor sale por la ventana. 

Translation: Love leaves through the window when hunger enters through the door. 

This saying conveys that romantic matters take the back seat when people are struggling to meet their basic needs. In other words, relationships weaken during times of hardship. This reminds people to go out and make a decent living so they can get cozy after dinner. Happy wife, happy life!

Para todo mal, mezcal; para todo bien, también. 

Translation: For every bad [thing], mezcal; for every good [thing] too. 

This saying encourages drinking mezcal on every occasion, from coping with adversity to celebrating the good times. It’s true, mezcal is a wonderful elixir and Mexicans never run out of excuses to drink it. People use this phrase to cheer when sharing a round of mezcal on both good and bad occasions because… why not? 

El muerto al pozo y el vivo al gozo. 

Translation: The dead to the grave and the living to delight. 

This saying may seem a little dark and impertinent, but its underlying message is a reminder to those grieving the loss of a loved one that they must embrace life again. It encourages individuals to move forward, find happiness, and appreciate the time they have left. While it may sound a bit blunt, it prompts people to shift their focus and take a positive approach to life after loss. 

Tanto peca el que mata a la vaca como el que le agarra la pata. 

Translation: The person who kills the cow is sinning as much as the person who grabbed its leg. 

This dicho conveys that all who are involved in wrongful acts are equally guilty and share the blame with the main perpetrator. It emphasizes that individuals who assist in or contribute to an immoral or illegal action are not absolved of responsibility. It is a reminder to stay a safe distance from people who get into trouble, as being an accomplice is no less of a crime. 

Más sabe el diablo por viejo que por diablo. 

Translation: The devil knows more due to his old age than to being the devil. 

This conveys that knowledge and expertise are acquired through life experiences rather than solely due to one’s innate character or abilities. It reminds us that elders hold a unique wisdom, a profound understanding, and insight that can only be acquired through time.

Now, you can spice up your conversations with a dash of local attitude. Share these with your expat friends so they, too, can chuckle, ponder and appreciate the folk wisdom that shapes the soul of this remarkable nation.

Sandra is a Mexican writer and translator based in San Miguel de Allende who specializes in mental health and humanitarian aid. She believes in the power of language to foster compassion and understanding across cultures. She can be reached at: sandragancz@gmail.com 

 

Beloved ‘dichos’: navigating life through Mexico’s folk wisdom

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