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Culture —– The “Tacaño” Hand Gesture

by Brandi

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December 7th, 2009

The Spanish word “tacaño” translates to “tightwad” or “cheapskate”. This is one of my very favorite gestures used in the Spanish language. Maybe it is because I grew up in a financially tight home and I can easily relate to it. When I was growing up, because of income, my parents would often take my five sisters and me, I didn’t have any brothers, to McDonald’s only two or three times a year. We usually only had enough money to perhaps get a half a hamburger each if we were lucky. We never had enough money for fries or a soda. I also walked uphill both ways to school barefoot in the snow during a blizzard (just kidding about the school and barefoot part).

Anyway, because of my upbringing I learned to be conservative with what money I had. My wife and coworkers often notice the fact that I am rather “tight with my money”, and they occasionally tease me about it. They most likely consider me to be somewhat of a “tacaño”. If they knew the “tacaño” hand gesture, they would most direct it towards me.

Anyway, now let us learn how to make the official Spanish sign for “tacaño”. To do this, put your right forearm in front of you with the fist pointing up in the air (forearm vertical, the rest of your arm is horizontal). Make sure that your right hand is in a fist. Then, with your left hand, smack the bottom of your elbow three times (slap up and down and not sideways). Go ahead and take a little break from the newsletter to try-out this important hand gesture.

I am told by some native speakers that this hand gesture is like having money in your fist and you are trying to knock it free by hitting your elbow. You are sort of saying, “Come on now!..Don’t hold on to your money so tight.”

In my own defense, I do have to say that when I lived in Latin America, I saw how generous the people were and I became more generous as well. I have actually became a lot less of a “tacaño” than I used to be. Because of that, nobody ever made the “tacaño” gesture at me, but it was fun to watch others make it to each other and find out who the real “tightwads” were.

Now that I live in the U.S. again, I have tried to continue with the culture I learned in Latin America of being generous to people, but unfortunately I have reverted back somewhat into my conservative spending habits and am considered, by some of my family and coworkers, a little bit of a “tacaño”.

To you international newsletter subscribers, do you have signs like this for people that are tight with their money as well? Please visit our blog to share your thoughts with us! Click here! We would love to hear your feedback.

Moral of the Story: It is fun to learn different aspects of a new culture; from gestures, to body language, to how people live. Learning the cultures of other people can enrich the way we look at life and help us to appreciate the differences of others.

If you want to learn Spanish, click here!

Sneak peek at next week: “The Dominican Point”

¡Que tengan un buen día! (“Have a great day!”)
David S. Clark — President / Director
U.S. Institute of Languages

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One Response

  1. Kate says:

    Hi Dave,
    This is in response to the newsletter culture article about taking photos. I lived in Beijing for almost a year. When they take photos, they say “eggplant” in Mandarin. It sounds similar to the word “cheese.” Eggplant is qieza, which is pronounced “chee-ezz-uh”. We thought that was interesting! Often when I was taking photos with a group of just Americans, we would say qieza instead of cheese.

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