July 1, 2009

La mantequilla de maní y el arte de la adaptación (Peanut butter and the art of cultural adaptation)

We speak español at RLPR, though we sometimes misinterpret each other. Tal vez es porque hablamos argentino, peruano, panameño, mexicano, salvadoreño, puertorriqueño and more – so we have to do some work to decipher each other’s dialects. While this is unquestionably conducive to our ability to do good work, it comes with its challenges. On more than one occasion we’ve been distracted by the impromptu Independence Day celebration in the kitchen with pisco sours - not to mention the dispute that arises when the drink’s origin gets called into question (Peru vs. Chile, anyone?).

About six months ago, I was thrilled at the arrival of my colleague Ana Cerón to RLPR. Ana came to us following a successful PR career in Mexico DF followed by two years of Hispanic marketing here in Los Angeles. While most of our agency folks are bilingual and bicultural (Ok, our CFO isn’t, but his Spanish is getting better every day), the task of proofing the writing often gets delegated to those of us who learned our conjugaciones and pretéritos perfectos in la madre tierra.

So when we got a heavy duty writing project - the Spanish-language adaptation of a client website - I called Ana. This project included a few hundred recipes and frankly, nothing gets a bunch of Latinos as confused and excited about language as what to call your favorite childhood food. I mean, our earliest memories - our IDs - are riding on this one, gente! Who can forget el postre especial de la abuelita. And don’t dare call it a crepa if it was in fact a panqueque. ¡No te atrevas…carajo! (Disclaimer – carajo and other words are not that bad where I come from.)

And off went Ana. I said to her: “Some of these have already been translated, but take another look since it’s been a while.” A few days later, and to my dismay, I noticed that a lot of the ingredients and even some recipe names had been changed. I needed an explanation.

Yanka: Oye, ¿qué paso con estas recetas?
Ana: Es que tenían muchas palabras que no se usan.
Yanka: ¿Cómo? ¿Qué es esto de crema de cacahuate? Se dice mantequilla de maní.
Ana: No. Es crema de cacahuate. Maní suena extraño.
Yanka: Llama a la argentina. (El árbitro más cercano.)
Romina: Nosotros no usamos mantequilla de maní. Comemos dulce de leche… En todo caso, se dice MANTECA de maní.
Yanka: Me alegra que ya todo esté claro. ¿Y qué es esto de nieve de mora? Te digo que es sorbete de arándano…

And this exposes briefly why launching campaigns in the Hispanic market is practically an art form. While it may seem easy to translate something, the writing process alone is intricate. We think of our target consumer and in some cases need to discuss minute details to figure out what to call a sandwich.

Beyond translating a text, we publicistas need to figure out who the campaign will reach and where: is it Southern California or DC? Young bilingual Latinos or Spanish-dominant moms? How do we reconcile the differences when we go nationwide? In some cases, it even makes sense to resort to English-language words that we wouldn’t be caught dead using in conversations with our primos back home. All in the name of dealing with cultura in the press.

Which is why I’m happy to have Ana and the dozens of folks here at RLPR whose cultural experiences and knowledge are so valuable to our day-to-day work. We’re blessed to have an amalgam of countries represented. Even if it means shocking the occasional intern who’s not yet used to our daily harangues on language and culture. Next week: dulce de leche: ¿uruguayo o argentino?

So, gente - what other words cause you to argue with your Latino friends and family? Share in the comments - we want to know!

Yanka Burgos is Vice President at RL Public Relations + Marketing. She can be reached at yanka.burgos@rlpublicrelations.com


Roxana said...

Me he reido mucho, Yanka! Thanks for sharing. It's crazy what you publicistas have to go through and I thought my family had it bad... My husband is from Puerto Rico and I am from Perú and we are raising our daughter bilingual - so there's a lot of disagreement. I wrote about it here: http://www.spanglishbaby.com/2009/05/you-say-aguacate-i-say-palta-which-is-it/

seanjvm said...

Dulce de Leche?

Uruguayo/ Argentino.

How is that different from Cajeta?

Would it be the consistency the thickness? Therefore Cajeta is different from Dulce de Leche or is it the same thing but we just call it different?

If it is the same thing, how can the origin be then narrowed to only 2 countries?

Marcela Beatty said...

This is too funny and sooo true! There are many times when I'm out with girlfriends and we start arguing about the "right" way to say things in spanish.

rlpublicrelations said...

“Unlike dulce de leche, cajeta is made with goat’s milk. Historically, both Uruguay and Argentina claim to be the birthplace of dulce de leche. However, you are right in that there are similar treats across Latin America – arequipe and manjar blanco, to name a few. While the consistency can vary from country to country, the treat is similar in taste because it’s a caramel made from milk and sugar.

Yanka Burgos

ScoringDeals said...

Soo true!

In Ecuador we call the bags "fundas" many Latins use the word "bolsas" but that sounds totally weird!

Corn = choclo (maiz or elote for others!)

rlpublicrelations said...

Where I grew up, “funda” is a pillowcase!


NYCityMama said...

OMG...I was about to respond and saw ScoringDeals reply and it reminded me as a child still strongly influenced the PR side of my family, but now living with my DR family, I went to a "colmado" (or bodega) and asked if they had "bolsas". All the men in the place looked at me horrified. Then another older grandfather type pulled me to the side and said, "M'ija, nosotros no lo llamamos bolsas...son 'fundas' aqui." I later asked my Dominican cousin what "bolsas" meant, and in DR "bolsas" is the direct translation for "balls" (testicals), so I realized I had just walked into a small store full of men and asked them if they had balls. The horror.

Anonymous said...

Working in a multicultural environment is a hassle as well as an enjoyment, specially when you discus food with your co-workers.In my case, the argument is between Argentineans, Mexicans, Colombians, and Venezuelans on who took the Arequipe, dulce de leche, or the cajeta at that time of day when everybody is craving some sweetnes... Everybody calls it however they want but the only thing we agree on is that the best brand of dulce de leche is arequipe Alpina.