Lost in Translation: The Bum Dollar

1.IMG_0664Does the above sign in the Golden Zone crack you up as it does me? Every time I see it, I have no choice but to chuckle. Why in the world would anyone want to trade in their pesos for bum dollars?! I’m so glad for this fairly new business, as it brings joy to my day every time I drive by.

In my world, exchanging money for bum dollars would mean getting fake dollar bills. Granted, the phrase “bum dollar” isn’t one I’ve heard, but it does logically follow a pattern (see the definitions below, from McGraw-Hill Dictionary of American Idioms and Phrasal Verbs). The people at BumDólar even advertise “the cheapest dollars on the planet!” 😉 

Cheap Dollars

I haven’t used the BumDólar exchange service; they may be completely wonderful. I post the photos tongue-in-cheek. Sometimes things are just lost in translation. What sounds good in one language can be hysterical, or offensive, in another.

For years I’ve said that my ideal job is to be one of the people who laugh themselves silly while choosing brand names like BumDólar, Calpis soda, Barf detergent. or Shitto sauce.

Dictionary Definitions and Sample Sentences

bum: false; phony.
“That’s a bum dollar.”
“He gave me bum advice.”

bum rap: blame or punishment that is not fair.
“Teachers are getting a bum rap from people who say they don’t work hard enough.”
“She was sent up to the penitentiary on a bum rap.”

bum steer: misleading instructions or guidance; information that is not correct< or not helpful; a misleading suggestion.
“Her suggestion to eat at that little Italian restaurant was a bum steer.
“I got a bum steer from the salesman, and I paid far more than I needed to for a used car.”

bum’s rush: hurrying someone out of a place.
“The young customer in the jewelry store was getting the bum’s rush until he pulled out an enormous roll of bills.”
“Bill got the bum’s rush at the restaurant because he didn’t have a tie on.”

bum someone out: to disappoint someone.
“This menial job really bums me out.”
“The bad movie bummed out the entire audience.”

bum something off someone: to beg or borrow something from someone.
“Can I bum a cigarette off you?”
“You can’t bum anything off me that I don’t have.”

bum around (with someone): to spend or waste a lot of time with a particular person.
“He used to bum around with Ted a lot.”
“They bummed around together all summer.

bum out: to have a bad experience.
“Are you going to bum out again tonight?”
“Man, is he bummed out!”

bummed (out): discouraged; depressed.
“I feel so bummed; I think I need a nice hot bath.”
“When you’re feeling bummed out, think how much you’ve accomplished.”

bums on seats: if a public performance or a sports event puts bums on seats, many people pay to go and see it.
“This production needs a big name to put bums on seats.”

the bum’s rush: the action of getting rid of someone who is not wanted.
“The photographer was given the bum’s rush by two policemen guarding the office.”
“Why do I feel I’m getting the bum’s rush? Where are you off to?”

Tell me, what are some of your favorite “lost in translation” phrases here in Mazatlán?

Getting a Mexican Driver’s License in Mazatlán

For many of us, obtaining our first driver’s license was a treasured rite of passage. When it comes to our kids getting their licenses, however, like many parents the thought scares me. And the scariness factor is amplified because our son is learning to drive in what, for us, is a foreign land, and one in which the driving, at times, can seem a bit crazy. Guardian angels please protect him and those near him!

Greg and I obtained our Sinaloa driver’s licenses shortly after we arrived. We took the required class, submitted our documents, drove around the block, had our photos taken, and oilá. Others pay a “fee” and have it all done for them, but we did it above-boards and it was easy-peasy. In fact, the class was downright enjoyable — the teacher is a very good storyteller!

Now Danny’s just gotten his license, so I thought telling you about it might prove helpful for someone.

In his case, he’s a new driver, and we’ve been teaching him whenever we get a chance for about a year and a half. He started out slow, as does everyone, but these days he’s become quite competent.

He wants to work this summer to save money to buy a used car, and he will probably end up buying one with a stick shift. But, our car, the one on which he’s learned, is automatic. So, we enrolled him in a driving school so that he could learn how to use a clutch. The series of classes cost 1450 pesos, and included four rounds of driving of two hours each time, or eight hours total. In addition, there was a three hour classroom session during which they studied rules of the road. He seems to have taken to the standard transmission like a charm.

On Saturday he went to the tránsito, which is located just in front of the Aquarium here in Mazatlán. From the malecón, turn on the street towards the Aquarium. Go past the statue of Don Cruz Lizarraga, and turn right on the street on the far side of the vacant lot. The DMV office (tránsito) is at the end of the street, last building on your left, on the corner. There are two doors. The door on the right is where you file your paperwork.

The door on the left is where you take a class.

First-time drivers under the age of 18 have to take a five-hour class. They tell us the class is offered twice/month on Saturdays from 8:00 to 1:00. The classes seem to be pretty full, and the kids get a certificate upon completion which entitles them to be able to submit paperwork for a license. They do not take a written test.

When we got our Sinaloa licenses we already had U.S. driver’s licenses, so we only had to take a one hour class. At the conclusion of the class, they gave out a written test. There was an English language version of the test that they give out here in town, which seems much much easier than the Spanish language version (it’s multiple choice).

After the class and after you pass the written test, they give you paperwork so that you can go next door and get your license.

The documents a foreigner will need include (original and one copy of everything):

  1. Your Mexican visa or residency document
  2. Proof of residence/domicilio (water or electric bill with your name on it and your address)
  3. Letter of recommendation from a Mexican national, vouching that the person knows you and you are an upstanding person. This needs to be signed and accompanied by a copy of the signor’s voter registration card.
  4. You need to know your blood type (no proof required; just know it). If you don’t know, supposedly there is a lab about a block away where you can get tested. We know our blood types, so we didn’t experience this part of the process.
  5. The correct fee (see the photo at right for the chart of fees). Foreigners with FM3s are limited to 2-year licenses. First-time licensees pay for “Aprendiz.”

For first-time drivers like our son, you also need to bring:

  1. Birth certificate (to prove age)
  2. CURP
  3. Passport
  4. Parent needs to be present to sign

When you present your paperwork, they will usually ask you to do a driving test. So, you will need a car. They just asked us to drive around the block, nothing too challenging. We’ve been told that they want to be sure you buckle your seat belt and instruct the examiner to buckle his; this didn’t happen for us. Danny was also told that they ask you to pop the hood of your vehicle and show the examiner where you insert water, oil, coolant, etc., though he was not asked to do this.

Be careful as the street beyond the DMV office is one-way to the left; you don’t want to turn the wrong way. Also there are quite a few topes on the road leading up to the DMV office, as well as a stop sign conveniently hidden behind a tree.

After you drive with the officer, you pay your fee at a booth on the right side. Currently that fee is 344 pesos for a two-year period.

Next they take your photo and produce the license while you wait.

Each license contains a fingerprint of the license holder, so that’ll be the last step in the process. For us we filed the paperwork, did the drive around the block and got our licenses in under 90 minutes.

Licenses are issued Monday through Friday 8 am to 2:30 pm.

Renewals (as well as license plates, titles) can be done at this same office. However, we have had much better luck renewing our licenses at the DMV office in the Gran Plaza — it’s less of a crowd and seems to go quicker.

Good luck and drive safely!

NOTE: Our son said he learned a lot more in the driving school than he learned in the tránsito class, although he enjoyed both, and that he highly recommends the school for new drivers.

Ferrusquilla: "That statue of a composer…"

Mazatlán is privileged to have a strong and vibrant expatriate community, many of whom volunteer long hours to help make our city a better place in which to live. Many in the foreign resident community have of course grown up and lived most of our lives elsewhere. We love our adopted home, but we often lack basic “cultural literacy” about our adopted homeland. I put myself in that category, of course. Every day, many times a day, I learn something new. It’s part of why I love living here.

Last week, I noticed the below comment on one of the local expat discussion groups:

“It is located across the Malecon between two statues: the Deer, Mazatlan’s symbol; and a Sinaloa composer holding his guitar and sombrero.”

The note surprised me, because I figured everyone who lives here knows our beloved Ferrusquilla! But, of course, we don’t “all” know anything; we all have different pieces of information. I see Don Ferrusquilla once in a while, dining around town or taking a walk, and I loved his INCREDIBLE acceptance speech at the Premios Oye! last month (drag the play bar to 6:46 to skip the homage and hear the original poem he wrote just for the occasion, full of love for our fair city).

But, of course, we all hold differing pieces of knowledge, so I thought I’d share a bit of what I know about this “Sinaloa composer holding his guitar and sombrero” in the statue. Maestro José Angel Espinoza Aragón, “Ferrusquilla,” is a national cultural icon, famous throughout all of Latin America and Spain, and one of the greatest orgullos of Mazatlán. The United Nations awarded him the the Medal of Peace in 1976, the University of Sinaloa presented him with an honorary doctorate just a few years ago, in 2008, and he’s received many other distinguished awards during his career.

His “master work” is the composition “Echame a mí la culpa,” sung by most every well-known Spanish-language singer (here it’s sung by Amalia Mendoza, “La Tariacuri;” or this one sung by Javier Solís). The song inspired a Spanish movie of the same name, and decades later (in 1980) was still so popular that it won “song of the year” in Spain, as sung by Englishman Albert Hammond. Ferrusquilla has acted in 80 motion pictures alongside actors that expats will recognize such as John Wayne, Clint Eastwood, Dean Martin, Boris Karloff, Richard Burton, Anthony Quinn, Brigitte Bardot, and Robert Mitchum, and has composed, to the best of my research, 97 songs.

José Angel Espinoza Aragón was born in Choix, Sinaloa on October 2, 1919. After his mother died his father moved the family to El Guayabo and then Los Mochis, where his father remarried. In 1935, after finishing junior high, his family sent José to study in Mazatlán. In 1937 he got on a train headed to Mexico City, to study medicine, but life didn’t quite work out according to plan.

According to one interview, in 1938 the young José was working a side-job at a radio station, one that broadcasted the popular late-afternoon children’s show “Fifirafas el Valoroso.” The role of “Captain Ferrusquilla” on the show was originally played by the head technician, Carlos Contel, brother of the station manager. After Carlos’ brother told him to choose whether to be a voice actor or a technician, the show was left without a Ferrusquilla. José had the good fortune to be present in the studio when the director, panicked, asked around for a male who could read the part. Thus, by fate, the “man of a thousand voices” with the nickname “Ferrusquilla” was born.

Ferrusquilla fell in love with the female lead of the radio show, Blanca Estela (María Blanca Estela Pavón Vasconcelos). According to this same interview, the two lived in New York for a year, dubbing the voices of actors such as Ingrid Bergman, Elizabeth Taylor, and Mickey Rooney. Blanca died tragically in a plane accident in 1949. After her death Ferrusquilla decided to commit himself to music, and composed his first song in 1951.

Ferrusquilla married and had two daughters with Sonya Stransky Echeverría in the 1950s (the marriage lasted five years). He tragically lost another loved one, his daughter Vindia, in a car accident in Mexico City in 2008. His daughter Angélica is a successful actress. He has said that his daughters have been the joy of his life.

By the way, the statue of Ferrusquilla, on the malecón in Olas Altas, made by artist Carlos Espino, was unveiled in time for Ferrusquilla’s birthday, in October of 2007.

Fellow foreign residents of Mazatlán: let’s all, proudly, be sure to call this landmark the “statue of Ferrusquilla”!!!! And, Mazatlecos and fans of Ferrusquilla: please teach all of us more about this incredible gentleman, sharing your life memories of the legacy he’s given us!

Note/Update: Jackie Peterson wrote an article on Ferrusquilla in the Pacific Pearl last year. Somehow I missed seeing it, but you can check it out here. And one of my friends has given me the Maestro’s number and asked me to give Ferrusquilla a call, to let him know about this post, so I will do that as well.

Update #2, March 5th: I met Maestro Ferrusquilla tonight. What a great man! He told me that in his younger years, he played for a year with Banda El Recodo, in the Cruz Lizarraga days, before he went to Mexico City and did the radio show. Cool trivia! He is a really nice and VERY interesting man and his English is GREAT! It felt very good to finally get up the courage to talk to him, and to have the honor of finally meeting him.

Islamic and Arabic Influences on Mazatleco Spanish


One of the interesting things I’ve noticed about how living here in Mazatlán has changed me over the past three years is in my vocabulary and manner of expression.

“When are you leaving on your business trip?” a friend asks me in Spanish. My “normal,” pre-Mazatlán response would have been, “I’m leaving late Sunday morning.”

After living here a few years now, however, my “normal, living-in-Mazatlán” response tends to be either: “Primero Diós (God permitting), I’ll leave late Sunday morning;” “Si Diós quiere (God willing), I’ll leave late Sunday morning;” or “Dios mediante, I’ll leave late Sunday morning.”

BIG difference to me, in both my worldview (more fatalistic/less control and structure) as well as in my phrasing. I find myself talking like this in Spanish all the time now, without thinking about it, whereas I would never before have said that. It is of course because I hear the people around me talking like that every day.

And I don’t just talk like this in Spanish; I find myself saying things like this more and more often in English as well. I’ve had some interesting feedback when saying things like this in English, especially when talking to Europeans. “What does God have to do with it?” or “Religion sure has taken on a major role in your life, Dianne.” A response in which I sense a bit of distrust, dislike or caution. This response, like any behavior, reflects a worldview, one in which it is not the custom to refer to God in this way, one in which spiritual beliefs are private matters, and in which recently there has been significant backlash to immigration and Islamization. In our local context, such phrasing doesn’t necessarily seem particularly religious; it’s just how many people speak.

To avoid such misinterpretation, I sometimes find myself avoiding references to God, which at this point requires purposeful choice. Alternatively I say something like, “The plan is to leave late Saturday morning,” or “My plane reservation is for a late Saturday morning departure.” Both of these phrasings feel much more cumbersome to me, they are not natural, yet they feel better than the “old” phrasing: “I’ll leave late Saturday morning.” That’s hard for me to say now. It feels too arrogant, too mechanistic. Things happen; things change. “The plan is to leave…” feels more truthful. More respectful. Less arrogant.

Most Mexicans will say that this sort of fatalistic or God-fearing phrasing originates in Catholicism. I am confident that Catholicism is part of the reason, and a devout belief surely encourages such thinking and expression. But the people who use such expressions are not limited to Catholics, nor church-goers. I’ve been to many Catholic countries where I don’t hear people referencing fate and God with every other sentence. Honestly, I believe this sort of phrasing in Mexican Spanish originated or was at least an influence of the Moors in Spain. They brought Islam and Arabic phrases to Spain (inshallah in Arabic, which became ojala in Spanish), and this mentality and phrasing have survived, thrived, and are alive and in frequent use in modern day on the west coast of Mexico. Such an outlook may resonate with indigenous Mexican beliefs and worldviews as well; of that I am unsure.

Another frequent local expression is the response to “How are you?” In high school Spanish classes I learned that the correct response is, “Bien, gracias. ¿Y tú? More often than not, people here will respond with, “Gracias a Diós, aquí ando” (Thanks to God, here I am); “Sigo de pie” (I am still alive); or “Echándole ganas” (I’m doing my best/giving it my all). These expressions, in my feeling for and understanding of them, infer a gratitude for life, a desire to express joy and gratitude and not to complain despite the huge economic hardships people have experienced in recent years. These are also expressions I find myself saying all the time, and ones I sense also originate from Islamic beliefs. It is amazing to me how what happened centuries ago on another continent affects so strongly how we express ourselves today. Or, you may say, it’s all Catholicism. 🙂