I'm looking for an equivalent to the following proverb which states, "The cactus is only visited when he has prickly pears." It means something like "He is only visited when he has money." I can't think of any in English to be equal.

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    "I don't want no scrubs" -TLC Mar 31, 2016 at 21:33
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    A fair-weather friend is someone who is only around for the good times. That's not exactly what you're looking for, but it is an idiom for a related concept.
    – Solocutor
    Mar 31, 2016 at 21:51
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    @Solocutor I was about to post that as an answer. You should. It's not quite an exact analogue, but it's good enough to warrant an answer.
    – dwjohnston
    Apr 1, 2016 at 1:51

4 Answers 4


Proverbs 14:20 reads

The poor are shunned even by their neighbors, but the rich have many friends.

[New International Version]

But this is far more transparent, and one version even helpfully [!] puts 'friends' in scare quotes. I think I'll start using the translation of the Mexican proverb.

  • I like the crude power of this proverb such as it is, so I'll take your advice and use the translation of it. Thanks! I thought it would sound strange in my novel, but maybe since the scene takes place in the desert, a lonely traveler would sound cool saying it." Mar 31, 2016 at 21:47
  • The snag is that 'cactus' connotes prickliness in the person visited; it might be best to explain the translated idiom, as you do here. Perhaps in a footnote. Mar 31, 2016 at 21:49
  • I understand the importance of it; I haven't learned how to place footnotes, so I'll expalin it here on a more cultural and social level. A cactus, when refered to a person in a despective way, as an offensive statement, refers to a very native, humble, poor person, with aztec or mayan features. Regardless of the prickliness--these pricks even seen as a self-defense mechanism by the feeling of degradation--, therefore when calling someone a cactus here in México you are going back to the roots of a country attempting to offend that person by racial features. Mar 31, 2016 at 22:41
  • So the pricks, even though pervasive, are in some way omitted by the aggresiveness of the implication. Thus, "The cactus is only visited when he has prickly pears," puts emphasis on the cactus, omitting the prickles by a superveneing power of denigration. Mar 31, 2016 at 22:41
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    There's no such connotation in English. Referring to someone as 'prickly' means they're touchy, hard to get close to; your proverb translated word-for-word into English would probably invoke this image. Mar 31, 2016 at 22:58

In the American Blues tradition, the expression

Nobody knows you when you['re] down and out

has been a familiar refrain for almost a hundred years. On YouTube, you can hear Bessie Smith's 1929 version of the blues song of that name. The sense of the expression is, of course, that everyone is your friend—and is happy to help you spend your money—when you're rich, but no one wants to associate with you if they can't derive any material benefit from it.

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    I like how the first part about "Knowing" involves a feigned cognition: you are still seen but not known, and seen is not the same as known, for known involves a higher principle. Mar 31, 2016 at 23:14
  • On a superficial level, "knowing" can mean simply acknowledging someone—nodding your head to someone instead of ignoring the person—but more deeply it can mean recognizing the person as someone whom you care about and who matters in your life, so to speak.
    – Sven Yargs
    Mar 31, 2016 at 23:41
  • And precisely that would distinguish it from mere opinion; for opinion cannot be the same as knowing: we can opine when we see something, but doesn't mean we really know; therefore, saying that, "Nobody knows you when you..." means that in reality most of the people that claim to know you, only have a vague opinion of you. So these people that "know" you are false friends anyhow. Apr 1, 2016 at 0:00

Consider, A friend in need is a friend indeed

Almost always it is the origin of a phrase or saying that requires the most research, the meaning being well understood. This phrase is interesting because there are various interpretations of its meaning.

There is some debate about the meaning of this expression. Firstly, is it 'a friend in need is a friend indeed' or 'a friend in need is a friend in deed'? Secondly, is it 'a friend (when you are) in need' or 'a friend (who is) in need'? If the former, then the phrase means: 'someone who helps you when you are in need is a true friend'. If the latter, it is 'someone who needs your help becomes especially friendly in order to obtain it'.

The Phrase Finder

Al nopal solo lo buscan cuando tiene tunas

lit. "They only look for the cactus when it has prickly pears"

Means, they only look for you when they need your help


  • I love it... and you are right; the beginings are always the point of focus. Thanks so much! Mar 31, 2016 at 22:14
  • @ParmenidesEphesus You're welcome, Parmenides!
    – Elian
    Mar 31, 2016 at 22:20
  • Unfortunately I don’t think this means the same thing at all. This means someone who is still your friend when you need something from them is a true friend (as opposed to the friends who are “fair weather” friends and disappear when it’s not convenient. Whereas OP’s saying means nobody pays attention to this person unless there’s something in for them (the attention payers) nobody ever visits Bill except when he’s got cookies at his desk.
    – Jim
    Apr 1, 2016 at 2:00
  • It doesn't mean the same, and probably and analogous but innacurate one will not do; especially because of the symbollism of the cactus having pricks. And from the parting point that pricks represent some type of defense mechanism: hence you could also infer that the cactus is only visited when he has prickly pears because he is so austere and prickley that only with the attraction of wealth people deign stand him. Apr 1, 2016 at 4:31

A fair-weather friend is someone who is only around for the good times. That's not exactly what you're looking for, but it is related.

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