My nephew was wearing this sweet sweater the other day, reminding me of the equally sweet word for raccoon in Spanish: mapache [mah-pah-tcheh].
Raccoons don’t exist in Spain (they’re native to North America), but they were common where I grew up. I remember one night watching an enormous raccoon just chilling on our back porch in the moonlight, gnawing on something that he really liked. They also regularly showed up as road kill since the area we lived in was kind of wooded.
While teaching English, raccoons would come up sometimes and since mapache is a word that’s hard to remember, I would always tell students that it’s the animal usually depicted as a burglar in cartoons due to their distinctive mask-like face fur. On more than one occasion, my students would express surprise that this was a real animal. They thought that the cartoon animals were foxes wearing masks, which, of course, is patently ridiculous.
One of my roommates in Barcelona was going out on a date one night and asked if I had any rímel. My first thought was of Erwin Rommel, the Desert Fox, because I have clearly seen too many WWII movies. We were standing in the hall between our rooms and I was frantically trying to figure out what she could be asking for and came up with absolutely no connection between desert warfare tactics and a night out on the town. Like those who faced Rommel, I accepted defeat and asked her what rímel was. Turns out she was talking about mascara…which, when said with a Spanish accent, is actually mascara (mask) which is what raccoons look like they’re wearing. Boom! Full circle!
UPDATE: A story in one of Spain’s national papers last week was about how raccoons that were originally imported as exotic pets and then abandoned have been encroaching on native wildlife. It’s disappointing that people continue to introduce animals into places where they don’t belong just because they want something cute and original. Has The Simpsons (not to mention the entire continent of Australia) taught us nothing?