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Dichos Are an Intricate Part of Mexican Culture
Article first published in Vol. 11, 1993.
By Bernardo R. Nieto. Research contribution by Alex Candelaria and Susan Dick
Dime con quien andas y te dire quien eres. Tell me who you associate with and I'll tell who you are.
These lines in Spanish and English easily translate into the familiar English, proverb, 'Birds of a feather flock together."
Proverbs or sayings in English and dichos and refranes in Spanish are succinct expressions of general truths, insights, observations or judgments based on life experiences. Often witty, sometimes ironic, proverbs, or dichos, can teach valuable lessons, confirm values, give advice, express attitudes and, in general, guide a person's behavior.
They are found in every culture and are used in everyday conversation, sometimes without a thought. The picture painted by the proverb often is enough to elicit a smile or a laugh, certainly a look of understanding among people who are familiar with it.
Studying the proverbs of another culture will reveal why the people think, act and behave the way they do. In Mexico, all social classes use dichos, especially residents of small towns and rural areas. Dichos are passed down from one generation to another by word of mouth.
They are an intricate part of the culture and are taught to everyone because dichos give people wisdom that will guide them throughout their lives.
Here are some examples of these witty gems that speak of love, business and general behavior, along with an English translation.
Action Love: El amor ardiente pronto se enfria. (Passionate love cools down quickly. / A love affair that proceeds too fast doesn't last long.)
El amor es ciego pero los vecinos no. (Love is blind. But the neighbors aren't.)
El gato viejo, raton tierno. (For an old cat, tender mouse. / Said about an older man involved with a young woman.)
About business: El primero es el deber que el placer. (Duty comes before pleasure.)
Gato que se duerme no caza raton. (A sleeping cat doesn't catch rats. / A lazy person will never succeed.)
Antes que resuelvas nada, consultalo con la almohada. (Before making an important decision, sleep on it or consult the pillow. /An important decision should never be rushed.)
For general behavior: Cuando los hombres hablen mal de ti, vive de tal manera que nadie les crea. (When people gossip about you, live your life in a way that discredits what they say.
El conocimiento es plata entre los pobres, oro entre los nobles y una joya entre los principes. (Knowledge is silver among the poor, gold among the noble and a jewel among princes. /Knowledge is valuable to al classes.
El ejemplo es mejor que las ordenes. (Examples are better than orders. /Actions speak louder than words.) Proverbs or dichos can be a very valuable source of advice for both young and old. They often reflect the values of a society and record cultural history. But some things never change. A young person preparing for life today might well heed this dicho:
El pez grande come al chico. (The big fish eats the little one)