“Money”…this word in English always reminds me, pleasurably, of the song by Pink Floyd.
Since it first appeared, money has brought with it more problems than solutions, yet it remains here…resisting all the ravages of time because humans have not found anything to replace it. Clearly, bartering is no longer a possibility we can return to, keeping in mind the financial reality that has existed for such a long time and upuntil today.
Cubans —in their creative search to re-designate things, to conceal things before the ears of others, to make these things more their own and to occasionally treat them in amusing ways— have come up with different names for money, though that element is sometimes an abstract term in our pockets.
During my life I’ve heard and verbalized different names for the currency that accompanies us and which turns our desires and material needs into reality – or not. The exchanges of this medium supposedly relate to our daily “sweat” and continue to give value to what we believe we are as a civil society.
In my memory, the oldest appellations for money in Cuba have been: plata (silver), estilla (splinters or shavings), lana (wool), magua (a type of plant), guano (straw), mascada (a “wad,” especially when it’s a considerable amount), baro (a “peso” in Mexico), guaniquiqui (from “guano” or bird droppings, from a song), pécora (hookers), soldi (“money” in Italian), moni (from the English “money”), until the most recent Piticlines (from a television adventure or cartoon).
Dollars were given the names fulas, dolores, los verdes (the greens) or verdolaga (purslane) for their color, as well as moneda dura (hard currency), comparing them to the “soft” value of the Cuban peso.
Convertible Pesos (CUC), which remain in use nationally, are called “chavitos,” like the bills in the game of Monopoly, according to a friend of mine.
Also, someone one has just a little bit of money it’s called a tierrita or cirigaña.
Small coins are referred to as menudo (change) or quilera (from kilo, or thousandths, and cents).
As for the metal peso, which comes in values one and three, these are called morocotas.
Each 100 pesos is counted in terms of tablas (e.g.: three tablas equals 300 pesos), while people also refer to the Cuban peso as a caña (a sugarcane) for whatever amount in question (e.g.: 10 cañas, 1,000 cañas, 8,000 cañas).
One gets accustomed to hearing offhand phrases such as:
– I’m in the meat, in leather, salted or broke or I’m palmiche*: when one doesn’t have any money.
– (S)he’s hecho (set) or a “hechote,” for someone who does have some money.
– (S)he’s a maceta (flowerpot), for someone who has a lot of money.
– (S)he’s a agarra’ (a grabber) or they “walk on their elbows,” or they’re a Chicho Durañón (a figure from a comic strip) are phrases describing someone who is considered stingy; a person who is selfish and “doesn’t let go of a dime.”
– Mala paga (a poor payer) describes someone who doesn’t pay.
– Apretador (a squeezer) is someone who doesn’t pay the exact value of things exactly – they squeeze!
– Tírame un salve (throw me a lifesaver) is to ask for a loan or financial help.
No way, people! Cubans are never at a loss of words to refer to things by their name in monetary terms.
* Palmiche isn’t referring to the palmiche (the Royal Palm Tree), but to pasmado (dead broke), which has nothing to do with money.