The wiry man cutting my hair didn’t mean to be offensive; he was giving me a compliment. He cut my hair in a salon-style flash while stopping to gossip with the hair washer and pronounced his work a success. I was flummoxed with the anticipation of seeing my family, who I hadn’t seen for over a year, but at least had the sensibility to tell him why I started laughing when he said, “Te queda muy mono!” In Spanish, “mono” means monkey but it also means cool or hip here in Andalusia. I explained to him that sometimes my ears still hear the literal monkey until I remember these colloquial expressions. I can’t imagine anyone in my native Minnesota saying, “That is so monkey!” but certainly stranger sounding things have been uttered. Maybe a close cousin to mono would be dope, and dope is not a word I would’ve associated with hip. But likely I’m behind on my American slang for “cool” anyway. I came of age in the 80s and cool still says it all for me.
My family, who recently trekked the air across the Atlantic to visit me and catch a glimpse of southern Spain, has their own set of words for a variety of feelings, nouns, and circumstances. I was happy to note throughout their time here that I am still a part of this easy banter that only we can really understand. It’s the same as the Andalusian monkey, but on a smaller scale. Once you spend some time with us, you can glean some insight into what we mean. But ears only able to grasp the concrete need not apply: ours is a mish-mash of puns, rhymes, pig latin, and completely made up words. And you have to be paying attention to the emotional content as well if you want to understand. Here are a few heard in our recent time of family bonding.
1. Doobley (pron. dooble-y) (adj) As in, This doobley thing isn’t working.
Or, as a noun: Can you pass me the doobley?
2. Doodles (pronounced as seen) (noun) An affectionate name for a partner or family member.
3. Reeb (noun) My mom’s favorite word for beer, spelled backwards.
4. Weed (noun) No, not maui-wowie weed, but a cigarette. My mother needed to have a “weed” with her morning coffee. I prefer “death stick,” but that’s kind of mean and probably not supported by research.
5. Crunky and floppy (adj) Replacements for feeling cranky, or just generally off your game.
My sister and I have said we should put together a family dictionary and now I’m thinking why don’t we actually, truly do so?
“Te queda muy mono” means that it looks good on you, or fits you well. And from the stylist’s expression it was clear he wasn’t criticizing my hair even though a monkey, not generally known for its physical appeal, made its way into the sentence. I’m not Spanish and definitely not a hair person, but I did notice he had twinkly eyes and a wide smile while sharing this statement. At some point, it occurred to me both in the hair chair and with my family, that you have to pay attention to things going on beyond and between the words. Words, which I love, only begin to say what we want or hope, but they don’t always do our experiences justice. Sometimes you have to take more of what’s going on in, through the rest of your senses, to understand the gist of the message. Body language and emotional intelligence 101. Sometimes we need a repeat of those courses.