[#019] Amargo y retruco, carajo

As Halloween is getting closer, some of you may be wondering if rioplatófonos celebrate it too. Well, that’s a tricky question… Today we’ll look at three cultural aspects of the Rive Plate area: a celebration, a traditional beverage and a popular game.


Halloween is not really a traditional celebration around this area. Nevertheless, it has recently become kind of popular and you may spot some children wearing costumes here and there, asking for candy or sweets. Sometimes it’s specially organised by parents in a specific neighbourhood or just along some blocks. Other times it’s a special activity organised by some schools. And then, of course, it also works as an excuse for young people and adults to go out to nightclubs or have parties. But no, it’s not like the whole town gets creepy decorations or anything. Or at least not yet.

Now, as a consequence of this recent “popularization” of Halloween, some people have started to express their discontent saying that we should only stick to our own traditional celebrations, and not adopt others which are not really part of our culture. Have a look at the following picture:


truco

Here we can see two kids celebrating Halloween and saying “¿Dulce o truco?“. Another possible version for “trick or treat” is “truco o trato“, but you will soon see why the words “dulce” and “truco” are specially chosen for this picture. Next to the kids we see a gaucho. For those of you who are not familiar with gauchos, we can briefly say that they are the typical traditional residents of the pampas. You are not likely to come across them in urban areas, but you can see them riding their horses in the countryside. In this picture, this gaucho answers “¡Amargo y retruco, carajo!“, which leads us to the other two things that I want to mention today: the typical drink and game.


First of all, the word “amargo” (“bitter”) refers to what this guy is drinking: mate, a traditional drink in all of the River Plate area, and especially in Uruguay. There’s a whole ritual to it, but in a nutshell, it’s a sort of tea that we have. You can see this gaucho is holding a gourd. That gourd is filled with yerba mate (the actual tea leaves), and then we introduce a “bombilla“, i.e. a straw, which has a special filter on its end. So then we pour hot water into it and take a sip. Voilà! The “real” or true mate is supposed to be bitter, but some people can add sugar to it to make it sweet. A gaucho wouldn’t probably approve of that, though.

Oh, and probably the most important thing: even though you can have it on your own, this is actually a shared drink. Yes, there’s only one straw for it, we know… But no, we don’t care. It’s a group thing and you can always share mate with your family and friends. There’s always a “cebador“, someone in charge of pouring it. This person always tries the first mate. Then he pours a new one and gives it to somebody else. This other person drinks it all up. Then the mate goes back to the cebador, who will pour a new one again, and give it to the next person in the group. The mate is passed on like that until there’s no more water left.


gaucho_mate

And here’s a good tip: be careful with being polite when having mate. You may feel tempted to say thanks when you receive or have finished a mate, but saying “gracias” when handing it back means that you’ve had enough. So if you say thanks after your first mate, then that’s all you will get!


Then, we have the word “retruco“. This word comes actually from a very popular card game called “Truco“. It’s not exclusive to the River Plate area, but it’s still very common here and everybody knows about it. I will not explain the rules or how to play it here myself, but I will leave a video with information about it anyway for those who want to know more. All I’ll say is that the name of this game comes from a special move that you can make during the game. When a player goes for “truco” (literal translation of “trick”), instead of playing for just 1 point, there are 2 points at stake. If the other player is confident enough and thinks he can win the hand, he can call for “retruco“: 3 points at stake. And if the original player decides to go even further, then there’s “vale cuatro“, which is worth 4 points.

Here’s the video with the guy explaining how to play Truco:





Question: Did you notice whether this guy has a rioplatense accent when he pronounces some Spanish words? There’s one place in particular where you should be able to tell (1:50). When he presents the cards and says their names, he refers to three of them: “sota, caballo y rey“. One of these three words can help you realize if he speaks Spanish like a rioplatófono or not. If you can’t guess what I’m talking about, click here.


Anyway, going back to the original picture of this post… The kids go “¿Dulce o truco?“. They are clearly speaking in the context of Halloween, so “dulce” stands for “sweet treat” and “truco” would refer to a kind of prank or mischief to scare the man if he refuses to give candy. But when the gaucho answers “¡Amargo y retruco, carajo!“, he’s disregarding Halloween and focusing on his traditional culture. When you talk about mate around here, you can say “¿Dulce o amargo?” to ask if the other person likes it bitter or sweet. The gaucho, of course, likes it amargo. And when you spout “truco” here, the first thing that crosses your mind is the card game. That’s why this gaucho answers “retruco“, as if he were raising the bet.

Finally, the gaucho also says “carajo“. We have already talked briefly about this word on our previous entry. So we’ll just say now that it’s an interjection that shows surprise or anger.


Ok, then. You’re now free to go celebrate Halloween and eat candy! Or play Truco online instead, while having some mate amargo. Or maybe both! Why not? 🙂

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