Summer 1992 at a shopping centre in Vitoria, Basque Country. We were heading out after some afternoon family shopping, when the alarm went off. The security man approached my grandad, who was carrying a shopping bag.
“Perdone, pero creo que lleva usted una alarma en la bolsa”.
“Excuse me. I think there is a security tag in your bag”.
“¿Un arma? No, señor. Yo no llevo ningún arma, solo la navaja”.
“A gun? I’m not carrying a gun sir, only my penknife”.
Grandad got so nervous by the alarm going off that he misheard what the security man said, and heard arma (‘gun’) instead of alarma (‘security tag’). He then pulled a penknife out of his pocket to prove he was saying the truth. The security man laughed and repeated the sentence. Grandad’s face turned red with embarrassment, but then calmly went back inside to get a security tag off the shirt he had bought.
Spring 2017 at my home in Oxford. We were back from the airport after picking up my mum and dad, who had come over to visit. They were making themselves comfortable and organising their stuff, when dad pulled a penknife out of his shirt pocket, together with his wallet and a pen.
“Dad. Have you been carrying that penknife all the way from Don Benito?”
“Yes. Why? What’s wrong?”
“What’s wrong? You can’t go around carrying a penknife here!”
“It’s only a penknife.”
I have no idea how on earth he managed to go through security at Barajas and Heathrow with that. You’d expect to be stopped and get your penknife removed, wouldn’t you?
From the two anecdotes above you can infer that carrying a penknife isn’t something unheard of in Extremadura. While not common among the young in the cities, it certainly is to some extent in rural areas, especially among the elderly and the middle-aged.
We locals know and understand this practice. A navaja is not a knife, for God’s sake. It’s just… a navajina. By using the diminutive term we’re telling you, not only where we’re from (it’s a very extremeño way of speaking), but also that this is a simple and harmless everyday tool. In Extremadura, penknives are not for personal protection. They’re a companion that can be extremely useful in countless situations.
You can use a navaja to peel an orange or some other fruit you carry in your travel bag as a snack, for example. Or for taking the cover off your mobile phone. Or for fixing all sorts of things, such as a broken wing mirror, as dad often does. Dad is your go-to person if something breaks on the road, because he is always well-equipped with different types of insulating tape. And a penknife, of course.
Grandad 2 wouldn’t start eating until his navajina was on the table. He wouldn’t use a knife, like the rest of us, and would be quite cross when he couldn’t find it, because it wasn’t where it usually was. Lunch or dinner wouldn’t start until his penknife was on the table. Full stop.
A navajina is, for many, an essential thing to both have at home, and to carry with you. So much so, that not having one can make some people feel they’re missing something.