Sunday, January 31, 2016

(Not such a) Happy Birthday... The Things they Say (14).

'Happy birthday to you,
squashed tomatoes and stew...'


How many of you can complete the above without resorting to google? (I'm having trouble myself.) It's a version I remember singing (with great gusto) at numerous birthday parties when I was about seven or eight. I recall it was ever so slightly 'naughty', so it was usually accompanied by stifled giggles behind cupped hands.

We're 'celebrating' Pablo's birthday this afternoon when I spot the tell-tale signs. María and Paula are pink with mirth and shaking like my last washing machine before it was 'retired'. Pablo and his chosen few are distributing the cake (a delightfully easy-to-cut chocolate sponge, I'm relieved to report) so I sidle down to the pink ladies to investigate.

'What's so funny?' I ask, without lacing it with the usual venom that this particular phrase is wont to attract. The spin-cycle goes into overdrive.

'María, he seeng- he seeng-' and that's as far as we get, as Paula's giggling destroys all hope of intelligible conversation. 

'I think you were singing some funny words,' I say, smiling conspiratorially, and the guilty looks on their faces confirm my best hopes. Back in the 1970s I'd have described this pair as little scamps. Great word, scamps. It seems to have gone out of use in recent years, replaced by the much less sympathetic 'troublesome', 'unruly' or 'ADHD'.  But I don't want them to think that I'm annoyed. Actually, I'm quite intrigued to know what they were singing, and I know I'll never find out if they think I'm angry. What is the Spanish for 'squashed tomatoes', anyway?

I find these little similarities between life in the UK and life on Mars rather interesting. Valerie arrived late the other day and I commented, 'Better late than never,' for no other reason than to see who might understand. Immediately a dozen pairs of eyes brightened and Miguel proudly told me that Spaniards say, 'Más vale tarde que nunca,' which amounts to pretty much the same thing. Whenever I discover one of these shared expressions, I always wonder whether it's just a happy coincidence; or whether one language (probably English) has stolen it from the other. Or maybe they've both stolen it: I'm reliably informed that pretty much exactly the same phrase exists in French and even Greek. 

Anyway, my patience is rewarded when the pink ladies reappear at my desk as I give the order to abandon ship for the day. María has a scrap of paper in her hand.

'We seeng thees-' she manages to say before the two of them tumble out to the cloakroom screaming with pent-up hilarity. I smooth the slightly damp and very crumpled sheet onto my desk. It appears to be some 'lyrics'.

Before I tell you what it says, I need to explain that (by some happy coincidence... or some underhand copying) the birthday song in Spain has exactly the same tune as the one we use in the UK. The (official) Spanish words are no more complicated or inventive than the (official) English version.

'Cumpleaños feliz, cumpleaños feliz, te deseamos todos, cumpleaños feliz,' which translates into 'Happy Birthday, happy birthday, we all wish you, happy birthday'.

Bit dull, you have to agree. So, no surprises to discover that Spanish children have resorted to rewriting a more 'entertaining' version. I examine my damp scrap...

'Cumpleaños feliz, tocate la nariz, y si no te la tocas, no seras tan feliz.' Obviously not trusting my prowess in Español very far, the girls have kindly included an English translation, in case I really am as daft as I often pretend to be. 'Happy birthday, touch your nose, and if you don't touch it, you will not be so happy.' Hmmm. Not exactly vintage Morcambe and Wise standard, but they're only eight. And there's more...

On the reverse side there's another couple of verses, these ones partly scrawled out, as if they've decided, late in the day, that they really are too risque, even for me (the life of the party).

'Cumpleaños fatal, que te lo pases muy mal, que te atropelle un tranvía, y feliz funeral.
Los regalos pa mi, los papeles pa ti, yo te invito al cine y tu pagas por mi.'

This time, however, my Spanish tutors have failed to include a translation, so I DIY it.

'Deadly birthday, we hope it's very bad, that you're run over by a tram, and a happy funeral.
The presents for me, the (wrapping) paper for you, I invite you to the cinema and you pay for me!'

It brings a smile to my lips. I'm quite impressed. Bit more inventive than 'squashed tomatoes and stew', I think to myself.

And then I hear squeals of sniggering, and the receding scuttling of small shoes on tiles, and the missing lines suddenly come back to me. 


'Happy birthday to you,
squashed tomatoes and stew,
Bread and butter in the gutter,
Happy birthday to you.'

I think that's a win for the Spanish, don't you? 

Little scamps!


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