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Culture: The Spanish John and Jane Doe, Who are They?

by Brandi

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October 5th, 2009

In English, when we’re composing a letter that will be used as an example in business or in a textbook, we usually address it with, “Dear John” or “Dear Jane.” And, at the end of the letter we usually sign it, “Sincerely, John Doe” or “Sincerely, Jane Doe”.

John and Jane Doe, who are obviously married and model citizens, also have their names on government and employment forms as they show us, by their perfect examples, the proper way to fill out those difficult forms. Some of us tend to get frustrated as “John” and “Jane” seem to be the epitome of perfection in our society, and we are just the “average Joe” never quite able to reach their level of perfection.

By the way, “John and Jane Doe” have a not so perfect son named “the average Joe”. Joe despises filling out forms and got “Bs” and “Cs” in school. Like his parents, however, “the average Joe” also seems to be everywhere in the United States. Whenever we give examples to people about things that occur in life, we refer to “the average Joe”. We say things like “Let’s consider ‘the average Joe’ in this particular situation”, and so on. Like his parents “John” and “Jane”, he is also extremely popular in our American culture.

Now we’ll change our topic a bit and talk about Latin America. When I was living in my first Latin American city, I always heard about a man named “Fulano” [foo-lawn-oh]. Everyone seemed to know him, but I never had the privilege of meeting him. After a short time, I learned that his full name was “Fulano de tal” (Fulano of such). As time went on, and I lived in a few more cities, everyone still talked about this “Fulano” guy. After a while of being immersed in my new language and culture, I finally realized that “Fulano de tal” was a long lost relative of “John and Jane Doe” and their son “the average Joe”. I think he is their second Latin American cousin twice removed whose parents fled from America in the late 1800s after the Gold Rush. He has since traveled throughout Central and South America and seems to have the genetic makeup of all three of his American relatives.

I also came to know that “Fulano” has two brothers named “Mengano” and “Zutano”. They just so happen to be first cousins with “Tom”, “Dick”, and “Harry” in the United States. So, when people refer to any “Tom, Dick, and Harry” in the United States, they can also refer to their cousins “Fulano, Mengano, and Zutano” in Latin America.

It was fun for me to learn that “John and Jane Doe” and “The Average Joe”, exist in Latin America in the form of “Fulano”. Just out of curiosity, for international readers, is there a “Fulano” type character in your country?

Moral of the Story: Next time you are talking to someone in Spanish and they mention “Fulano”, you will know that they are talking about “The Average Joe”, “John or Jane Doe”, or just “so and so”.

Sneak peek at next week: “Provecho / Servido – Manners While Someone is Eating”

¡Que tengan buena semana! (Have a Great Week!)
David S. Clark — President / Director
U.S. Institute of Languages
Click here to learn Spanish!

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3 Responses

  1. maria says:

    I’m a polish person learning Spanish. In my country the person everybody knows is Jan Kowalski, which in English translation would be John Smith.

    BTW, I enjoy your newsletter.

  2. danwize says:

    @maria @maria Thanks for sharing! I love to hear these cultural nuances.

  3. Helen says:

    If I want to say “have a great week” to one person, or Have a great trip” to one person is i Que tenga un buen viaje? of Qué tenga un buen semana?

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