Second languages are hard, guys. But fortunately, there’s a universal truth that spans all cultures: Dog people LOVE to talk about their dogs. I’ve probably put more energy into learning how to talk to people about my dog than any other topic. Hey go figure, now my dog Spanish is my best Spanish.
I’d say my dog Spanish was developed over the course of five trial-and-error style lessons.
Lesson #1: People in Peru do NOT ask if they can pet your dog. They ask if your dog bites.
For several months, people would approach me and Pulga and throw a Spanish question at us. In stupid second-language panic, I just assumed dog interactions were the same as in Kentucky, where the opening question is always, “Can I pet your dog?” So I’d answer, “Yes, of course!” Whelp, turns out the Peruvians were actually asking, “Muerde?” In English, “Does she bite?” In short, my dog interactions were pretty stunted for a while:
“Oh she’s so cute! Does she bite?”
“Yes, of course!”
*Spanish-speaking person nervously shuffles away*
But I mean, in all fairness, come on. Does this dog look like she’d bite anyone?
Lesson #2: Dogs are either “macho” or “hembra”.
As soon as I stopped insisting my dog was a vicious finger-munching machine, the inevitable next question was “macho o hembra?” By my tally, almost all the dogs who come over to visit Pulga are boys, and since they can’t seem to shove their noses into her crotch fast enough, I don’t know why owners bother asking if she’s a boy or girl. For a while I tried to tell people that Pulga was a “niña” (female human child) or a “chica” (female human), but apparently it’s weird to use words for humans to describe your dog. This makes it particularly bizarre that it’s evidently ok to use “hembra” to refer to human women. Granted, confirmation on that point came from Ivo’s (all male) poker night buddies…
Lesson #3: Peru needs a heavy dose of Bob Barker.
Alarmingly few people seem to spay and neuter, especially when it comes to male dogs. Dog balls for days, folks. People do sometimes ask if Pulga is “operada” or “castrada,” but when the answer is yes, the response is usually general shock that I don’t want her to have puppies.
Lesson #4: If somebody mentions anything that sounds like “pelea,” abort, abort, abort.
There are loads of dogs in Lima, and leash laws (if they exist) aren’t really enforced. As a result, you can generally trust that most dogs in the park are socialized. That said, anything related to “pelea” (trans.: “fight”) basically means “my dog is a dick.”
Just the other day, an adorable little Frenchie slipped his leash and trotted straight over to Pulga. His doggie mama came running after him, but he was a quick little sucker and had already darted behind me to where she couldn’t quite grab him. She said something to the effect of “No está operado, puede pelea.” But the thing is, I still have a second-language lag when it comes to processing, and those 3 seconds or so was apparently all the Frenchie needed to decide that Pulga deserved to get eaten. After an adorable albeit nasty squabble, we managed to yank our fur babies apart.
Lesson #5: Dog slang exists too.
My personal latest favorite is “cachorrito,” which means “puppy,” but with the added cuteness that only adding the “-ito” suffix can bring. I also heard plenty of “peluche” and “peluchita” back before Pulga got shaved down to her birthday suit due to the summer heat. A “peluche” translates specifically to a “teddy bear,” but it seems like it can generally be applied to anything that is fluffy, adorable, and capable of making middle school girls or younger produce sounds that could break glass (ok, fine, I’m pushing 30 and I make those sounds too). For the record, Pulga’s original potty walk as a puppy went past an all-girls’ school each day, and if we hit it right before dismissal, whew. Girls were lined up at the windows and screaming like I had Justin Bieber at the end of my leash.
In summary, I’m still not really confident buying things at the grocery store, and apparently my pronunciation of at least one whole number under ten is basically jibberish (it’s 6, for the curious). But amigo, if you want to habla sobre mi perro, I’m on it.