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An excerpt from

Worldly Words of Wisdom

James Chapman

When talking about different cultures and places, the conversation usually focuses on the food, the music, the clothes and the landscape. But language can be just as important when describing any society. Proverbs and day-to-day expressions passed down through generations can tell us so much about life in a specific place.

This book is a collection of the more exotic phrases from all over the globe, shining a light on the subtle differences found in our lives, and the lives of our ancestors. The initial cultural differences – food, wildlife, attitudes – come out in these magnificent sayings in one way or another. They’re all ways to communicate a feeling or a sentiment, using anything that’s relatable in that culture.

Take apples for example, they’re a huge part of western lives – you can’t get more relatable than a good old apple. Apple juice, apple pie, apples are everywhere. They’ve entered the language too, with people being described as a ‘bad apple’ or ‘the apple of your eye’, even cropping up in phrases like ‘an apple a day keeps the doctor away’. Living in such an apple culture, it makes sense that they show up in speech from time to time, right?

Well what if you live in a place with hardly any apples? What if it’s mostly pineapples where you are? Well, in Venezuela, one of the biggest pineapple producers in the world, this exactly the situation. An annoying person isn’t called ‘a bad apple’ or ‘a pain in the neck’, instead they’re called ‘eres una piña bajo el brazo’ – ‘a pineapple under the arm’, a perfect fruitbased description of an uncomfortable annoyance. That’s the beauty of language and the way it has developed. These phrases can convey such a familiar idea in such an unexpected way.

“The cat dreams of the finest cuts of meat.” (India) – a kind of equivalent to a “pipe dream” in English

“Love carries over mountains” (Czech Republic)

“Dance by yourself and you can jump as much as you want” (Greece) – Independence is freedom

“The honey only sticks to the moustache of the one who licked it” (Saudi Arabia) – an equivalent to being caught “red handed”

“Better to be a dog at peace, than a man in chaos” (China) – No explanation needed, this is 100% true.