Growing up, I never wondered why in China, we say qie zi (eggplant in mandarin) when we take a picture. Well, saying qie zi makes you smile, right? Then when I came to college in America, I learned to say cheese, because the long eeeeee has the same effect to draw back your lips. But it wasn’t until I studied abroad in Spain and discovered that people say patata (potato in Spanish), had I started to ponder: hhmmm…all food names huh?
So I messaged friends from different countries to ask “what do you say in your language when you are taking a picture?” and here’s the fascinating result I received:
Paola: “In Mexico, we say ‘whisky’ when we want to take a picture. I’ve heard this story, and I’m not sure if it’s true, but when pictures first became popular, they were a privilege only the rich could afford and these were only take during celebrations where it was customary to make a toast with whiskey. Some photographer saw that everyone had cups of whiskey in their hands and told them to say whiskey. Since he saw that the effect drew left the impression that they were all smiling, he started using it for all his photo shoots, and soon enough the custom picked up.”
Mohammad: ”In Iran, the most common one is ‘sib‘! It means apple. The way ‘i’ is pronounced here is like ‘ea’ in ‘beach’ or ‘ee’ in ‘cheese’!”
Laura Anne: ”Unfortunately…the Greek version of ‘say cheese’ isn’t that exciting. In fact, they say the exact same thing which translates to ‘pes TIRI’ — ‘pes’ meaning ‘say’ and ‘tiri’ meaning CHEESE. ”
Sebastian: “Since we use a lot of anglicisms in Germany, we sometimes say cheese as well… Although there is a very common expression ‘Käse’ that literally means cheese in German. Besides those two, there are millions of expressions that depend on the mood and situation in where you are taking a picture. I would say by far the most common ones are cheese and ‘Käse‘ though.”
Francis: “They say ‘kimchi’ in Korean, which is a pretty staple food/side dish that Koreans eat with everything. The best way I can describe it is spicy pickled cabbage..it sounds strange but I def can’t live without it. Kimchi makes me smile…maybe that’s why we say it (aside from the obvious fact that when pronouncing it you’re mouth is automatically ‘cheesing’)”
Reggie: ”In Japan, the most common thing people say when they take a picture is チーズ (chii-zu). In Japanese, it’s fairly common practice to take English words/phrases/terms and transfer them directly into Japanese using the letter system known as katakana. That’s what has happened in this case as the Japanese have in a sense borrowed the English term.”
Renata: “In portuguese we say ‘Olha o passarinho,’ which means look at the birdie, so everyone smiles, its silly but it works, or sometimes we simply say sorria! Which means smile!” (Renata blogs at Wize Eyes, do take a look!)
Nicolai: “Appelsin! (Orange)”
Keremcan: ”In Turkey we either say cheese or ‘peynir’, which is pronounced as ‘pay-near.’ Peynir is the literal translation of cheese in turkish.”
But who thought of the word cheese to begin with? I poked around online and found no plausible answer to who was the first photographer to use the phrase. However, I did find this interesting article detailing the first printed record of the expression on Phrases.org.uk.
Of course, you can say anything while someone is taking a picture of you (“I don’t smile for pictures.” ok, or don’t smile at all, jerk), so have fun next time, try “whisky,” “qie zi,” or heck, say “moneyyyyyyy,” or “Christmas,” whatever that makes you smile.
What do you say in your language? Let me know in the comments:) Thanks Flagpedia for all the flag photos!