A Guide to Papiamento: You’ll be Saying Bon Dia in No Time

While I’ve never been a fan of the tourist phrasebook — perhaps because I have yet to find myself at a stranger’s dinner party where inquisitive locals want to know how many siblings I have — I do believe that learning key phrases enhances your travel experience.

Before arriving at my destination, I try to memorize a few key phrases, in addition to the four essentials of hello, good-bye, please, and thank you. And preparing for my trip to Aruba was no different. I was pleased to see that English and Spanish were widely spoken (check and check), but the official languages of Aruba are Dutch (hallo!) and Papiamento (*crickets*), one I was not familiar with.

Pharmacy in Oranjestad

Bon Bini to Papiamento

Like every curious traveler, I scoured books and online resources for more about Papiamento, which, by the way, is also spoken in Bonaire, Curaçao and Saint Eustatius. There are several theories as to origins of Papiamento. The majority of scholars say it was born from the Cape Verdean language that arrived to the Caribbean as a result of the slave trade. The vernacular expanded to include Portuguese words, including the name Papiamento itself, which is derived from the Portuguese word “papear” (to chat). It later expanded to include words and phrases from other languages and cultures, including the Arawak Indians, to weave a beautiful identity of its own.

The language became widespread and adopted by the Portuguese and Spanish occupiers, until the arrival of the Dutch. In 1815, Papiamento, the language of the majority, became a forbidden language and Dutch became the only language of instruction that was permitted in the schools.

It took almost 200 years for Papiamento to gain the status of official language in the Islands. Aruba came first. In May 2003, the Aruban government declared Papiamento an official language. Curaçao was the second country, turning Papiamento into an official language in 2007.

Palm trees in Oranjestad

The Dushi Experience

To the ear, it sounds like Portuguese, Spanish, Dutch and African Creole – and I could not get enough of listening to it on the island. This combination of languages conspired to create a word that admittedly at first made me giggle, but then continuously charmed me: Dushi.

Dushi is a Papiamento word that is sort of a catch-all, much like “aloha” is in Hawaiian. It literally means sweet. I was called Mi dushi, a few times as a term of endearment, similar to sweetheart or darling. And if there was ever a word to describe the sugary architecture and delightful locals of Oranjestad, it’s that word.

Watch the reaction of shop attendants when you say, “bon dia!” the daytime greeting in Papiamento, or when you thank the café staff by saying, “masha danki.” This seemingly small gesture goes a long way for an Aruban.

Ban Goza (Let’s Enjoy) Aruba

Papiamento has a rhythm of its own, so it’s important to put the emphasis on the right syllable. But, don’t worry, you’ll be able to pick it up quite quickly. Whether it’s Papiamento or any other language, the effort of speaking to locals in their language adds a new layer to your journey.

Photo of pronunciation guide
Photo by Nothing Ahead on Pexels.com

Papiamento Pocket Guide:

Welcome                            Bon bini

How are you?                    Con ta bai?

Fine, thank you                 Bon, danki

Thank you very much      Masha danki

You’re welcome                Na bo ordo

See you later                     Te aworo

Very good                          Hopi bon

Sweet                                  Dushi

My darling/sweetheart   Mi dushi

A Kiss                                   Un sunchi

Have a nice day                Pasa un bon dia

Goodbye                             Ayo

Good morning                   Bon dia

Good afternoon                Bon tardi

Good night                         Bon nochi

Warmth & Happiness

Scandinavia continues to be the world’s happiest region, with Finland, Iceland and Denmark firmly holding on to the top three spots in the World Happiness Report of 2020 – despite the uncertainty of the pandemic. That same year, the Finnish sauna was added to UNESCO’s Cultural Heritage list, a sign of how integral the sauna is to almost every Finn’s household.

Is there a correlation between happiness and warmth? Perhaps.

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I Segesta You Visit Sicily

Apologies for the pun.

As a long-time fan of the television show, Golden Girls, Sicily was at the top of my travel list even before I officially formulated a travel list. From a young age, my favorite way to start a story was, “Picture it, Sicily, 1922…” the same way the acerbic matriarch Sophia prefaced hers.

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In Search of Vikings

From cunning seafarers to merciless warriors, the myths and legends of Vikings have captured the imagination for generations. It is documented that they reached faraway shores from Newfoundland to Constantinople, yet nowhere else in the world can you truly get a sense for their fascinating way of life than in Norway.

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“We’ve come too far, we’ve made too much progress and we’re not going back. We are going forward.” – Congressman John Lewis, August 22, 2018 at the renaming ceremony of Freedom Parkway as the John Lewis Freedom Parkway.

Most of my belongings were still in boxes and I was using Google Maps to find the Publix Supermarket that was only three blocks away when I read they were renaming Freedom Parkway. How could I find my way around this town if the names of streets keep changing? But a few sentences later I learned it was to honor John Lewis and then it seemed too small of a gesture. Only the parkway? Mayor Bottoms should have renamed the whole dang city Lewislanta. Imagine the perseverance of this man to skirt death on Selma’s Edmund Pettus Bridge fighting for the right to vote, to then be elected to the House of Representatives two decades later.

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Portal to Hope

I spent the Christmas holidays strolling through SoHo, hailing cabs on Broadway and taking in the elaborate window displays down 5th Avenue. It was the eve of the New Year and the new decade, and I was feeling hopeful about what 2020 would bring. I was also feeling particularly proud of myself for having cleverly paired my New York trip with a quick jaunt to Bermuda. Culminating my vacation with my feet covered in pink sand was the gift I was most eager to unwrap.

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Amor al Arte

The world’s great masters are not exclusive to Europe. From Brazil we have Tunga, best known for his fascinating sculptures about the human body. From Chile, Roberto Matta is a seminal figure in 20th century abstract expressionist and surrealist art. From Colombia we have beloved Fernando Botero who created his own exaggerated style of Boterismo, and from Mexico the foremost muralist Diego Rivera. These are only a few of the influential and brilliant artists that hail from across Latin America. This region is also home to artistic movements grounded in heritage, history and tradition—and deserve to be exalted.   

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In Search of Enchantment: Tenerife’s Anaga Mountains

The term Isleña, meaning island girl in Spanish, is what we call my grandmother. A term of endearment exclaimed whenever she walks in the door. ¡Llegó la isleña! (The island girl is here!) I grew up thinking it was a reference to our Cuban heritage, but when I became more inquisitive about our family’s lineage, I discovered that her nickname was a tribute to her Canary Island roots. Her father emigrated to Cuba from Santa Cruz de Tenerife and the nickname, along with a strong emotional connection to Spain, was passed down to her.

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Shakespeare in Paris

I think every writer has a Parisian fantasy that revolves around Shakespeare and Company. Opposite of Notre-Dame in the heart of Paris, there is no greater setting. Adding to the romance, this is the bookstore where James Baldwin hung out, where William Burroughs researched medical books for Naked Lunch, where Anaïs Nin drank Bordeaux straight out of the bottle, where Ernest Hemingway often showed up drunk, and where Allen Ginsberg howled naked.

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Smithsonian: African American History and Culture

The same way you can’t not notice this building, you can’t not be moved by the collection. The National Museum of African American History and Culture feels like a sacred space. A Sunday school dedicated to celebrating the richness and diversity, as well as educating and preserving the hard truths, of the African American experience.

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The Art of Skin: Tattoos of Polynesia

“Your necklace may break, the fau tree may burst, but my tattooing is indestructible. It is an everlasting gem that you will take into your grave.” A verse from a traditional tattoo artist’s song

I was 19 when I got my first tattoo. I walked into a local shop, pointed to a design on a wall of renderings and unbuttoned my jeans. I wasn’t ready to show the world (let alone my parents) my skin art, so it was imperative to conceal my act of rebellion.

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