Mexican Proverbs

In the lyrics of Roger Clyne’s bout of Jack vs. José, we are given the line “si a Roma fueres haz como vieres,” or rather, When in Rome do as the Romans do, and so why not sit back with some Mexican proverbs and head into the New Year with tequila because…well, when in Rome (errr, México).

Rocky Point 360 collaborator Wendy Fregozo fills us in on popular “refranes Mexicanos” which are part of traditional folklore and found springing up in conversations from time to time (granted – some of these require a little beyond literal translation).

Refranes Mexicanos

By Wendy Fregozo

“Zapatero a sus zapatos” (Shoemaker tends to his shoes): This is a proverb meaning do what you really know what to do; if you’re not good at an activity then do what you know how to do.

“El miedo no anda en burro” (Fear does not ride a burro): I use this to say that fear makes you act quickly [as riding by burro would take a long time]

“Camarón que se duerme se lo lleva la corriente” (Sleeping shrimp is taken away by current): This is very common and one of the most well-known proverbs, meaning one needs to remain astute and “no dormirse en tus laureles” (not rest on your laurels).

“Si quieres conocer a Inés, vive con ella un mes” (If you want to get to know Inés, live with her for a month): No, you’re not suddenly going to meet someone named Inés who’s coming to live with you. This means there’s nothing like really spending time with someone to get to know them. We can also pair this with “las apariencias engañan” (appearances can be deceiving).

“No por mucho madrugar amanece más temprano” (Getting up early does not make dawn come faster) [There’s a time for everything]: The saying in itself says it all. Although you do everything quickly, this doesn’t change the fact there are 24 hours in the day. Live must be lived at its own speed. Without rush.

Though there’s also the saying “Para uno que madruga, hay otro que no se duerme” (For every person who gets up early, there’s another that doesn’t sleep): This proverb means that for every forward-looking intelligent person there’s always another even more forward-looking intelligent person. A point of comparison.

“El hambre lo tumba y el orgullo lo levanta” (Hunger knocks him down and pride lifts him up): This refers to people who don’t accept anyone’s help out of pride, even if they need it.

“Farol de la calle y oscuridad de su casa” (Lamp shining on the street and darkness at home): This refers to a person who is brilliant in front of society, or with friends, and totally the opposite at home

“Agua que no has de beber, déjala correr” (Let the water flow if you’re not going to drink it): If you’re not going to take advantage of an opportunity, let someone else.

“El que es perico, donde quiera es verde” (A parrot is green all over) A person who at all times demonstrates his/her character in whatever circumstance

“No todo lo que brilla es oro” (Not all that glitters is gold): Nothing is as it appears

“Al nopal sólo se le arriman cuando tiene tunas” (One only visits the nopal [cactus] when it bears fruit): This expression is for people who only look others up when their help is needed.

“El que con lobos anda, a aullar se enseña” (One who goes around with wolves is taught to howl): This phrase is used by mostly by mothers as an example of the influence that friendships can have on one’s actions.

“Más sabe el diablo por viejo, que por diablo” (The devil knows more from age than from being the devil): Another common proverb. Many times people know more from experience they’ve obtained over the years, than due to whatever title they may have.

“Al buen entendedor, pocas palabras” (Few words for someone who understands well [A word to the wise is enough]): The proverb speaks for itself. One who is attentive and interested in learning, does not require much explanation.



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