Doctor And The Gringo

Doctor was a marvelous bird. He was a parrot whose cage sat in the far corner of the courtyard of the Justiniano family's home in Santa Cruz Bolivia. His name was pronounced "doc-TOR" - as in, "Doc, I TORE my spleen", assuming a spleen is tear-able.

Doctor fit perfectly into the Justiniano family because he had tons of personality. He'd whistle at women who walked by his cage, he'd shout random meaningless phrases (in Spanish of course) and, occasionally, he'd harass the dog. I must say, being a bird sure seems like it's a good gig. Especially if you're lucky enough to live with people like these.

The Justiniano family had been dear friends of mine when I was living in Bolivia as a high school foreign exchange student. They were proud of their country and happy to share. And, just like Doctor, everyone in the Justiniano family had tons of personality. So, naturally, when I returned to Bolivia years later for a two month adventure with my college roommate, we spent a week with them. It was wonderful.

My college roommate's name was Jeff.

Jeff had never been outside of the U.S. before. To be honest, I don't know if he'd even been outside of his hometown more than once or twice. He was a farm boy with a phenomenal knack for stumbling into odd situations - but he always managed to do this in a marvelous "no-harm, no-foul" sort of way - and he took everything in stride.

On our final morning with the Justiniano family, Jeff had some time to kill before we were to hit the road. He decided to spend this time adding a new phrase to Doctor's repertoire. He was going to teach Doctor to say "The gringo is an American."

I have no idea why Jeff picked this particular phrase. His Spanish may have been even more limited than the bird's, so it's possible that this was the only thing he knew how to say properly. I don't know. At the time, I didn't give it much thought because I still needed to finish packing.

With a proud smile, Jeff marched out to the far corner of the courtyard where Doctor's cage was hung and began chanting "El Gringo es un Americano!" over and over and over again.

"El Gringo es un Americano!"
"El Gringo es un Americano!"
"El Gringo es un Americano!"

From the opposite side of the courtyard, Mr. Justiniano appeared and quickly made his way toward Jeff while sporting an equally proud smile.

Mr. Justiniano was one of those larger than life men with an even larger sense of humor. He didn't speak English, and Jeff didn't understand Spanish, but as Mr. Justiniano put his arm around Jeff's shoulder and shot him a wink and a smile, a bond had been formed.

They began chanting the phrase together.

"El Gringo es un Americano!"
"El Gringo es un Americano!!"

A friend of the family came over to join them.

"El Gringo es un Americano!!!"
"El Gringo es un AMeriCANo!!!!"

Mr. Justiniano's teenage son joined them as well.

"El Gringo es un AmeriCano!!!!!!!"
"El Gringo es un AMERiCaNo!!!!!!!!!!"

At this point, I left to take a shower. The bathroom was within earshot of the courtyard, but as the sound of the water echoed off tile walls, it drowned out the men as they continued to chant. When I was done, as I turned the water off, I realized that even more people had joined the chorus. The phrase was now a jumble with Jeff's voice booming in and out of the others as he tried to get the pronunciation right.

"El Gringoessunmerican!!!!!!!!"
"El Gringo Essunmericon!!!!!!!!!!!"
"El Gringo Is Una Mericano?"
"El Gringo Es unmarrican!!!!!!!!!!!"
"Elgringo Esunmaricon!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!"

I dried myself off and got dressed as the chorus rang out.

When I returned to the courtyard, I found Jeff beaming. He was surrounded by Bolivian men who appeared to be having the time of their lives. They paid no attention to me, as they were determined to help Jeff teach Doctor to say this magical phrase.

"Hey Jeff, what'cha doin'?" I asked.

"Hey Rob! We're all teaching the bird a new phrase."

"What's the phrase?"

"Huh? Y'know... it's what they're saying..."

"I know what THEY'RE saying... but what do YOU think they're saying."


Jeff's face turned beat red as the crowd erupted with laughter, knowing the jig was up. Everyone began patting him on the back and mussing his hair, which must be international code for "Gotcha!"

While I'd been in the shower, the phrase had mutated from "El Gringo Es Un Americano" to "El Gringo Es Un Maricon."

In other words, Jeff had unknowingly been teaching the bird to say "the Gringo is gay."

Luckily, Jeff had a great sense of humor. One of the best I've ever come across, as a matter of fact.

::::: | Tuesday, Oct 25 2005 at 8:46 PM
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Mari said:

My Spanish is rustier than anything, but I started giggling when I read what the phrase had morphed into...

My friend from Colombia must go and read this story now :)

::::: | October 26, 2005 10:13 AM

Amanda said:

I know a lot of Spanish, but it's all from textbooks, so I had no idea what Maricon meant.

very funny story nevertheless!

::::: | July 27, 2006 12:53 PM

Kim said:

Hee, that's great. It reminds me of the joke I heard in Mexico about locals walking up to Americans and saying "Estados Unidos?" strangely enough sounding much more like "Estamos hodidos?" To which Americans always reply, "¡Si, si!"

(my spelling is likely very bad here. forgive me.)

::::: | December 25, 2010 2:13 AM

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