From the Mouths of Spaniards

READER DISCRETION ADVISED: foul language below. Not suitable for children.

I began learning Spanish 20 years ago and spent 4 months in Spain, but somehow I never learned of the propensity Spaniards have for using foul language. I remember realizing that they used joder a little more often then their South American counterparts, including the free use of it on primetime TV (something you’d get a hefty fine for in the US). However, I didn’t realize the extent of the expletives.
Until…I moved in with a Spaniard. I’ve known my boyfriend for 8 years, so I knew of *his* love of expletives, but I didn’t know it was a cultural norm. We began watching episodes of Los Hombres de Paco, an 8-season TV series from Spain about a police station in Madrid: part comedy, part drama. That was when I began to realize it was more than just my boyfriend’s personality. Even the Commissioner likes to put things in his “santísimos cojones” (my favorite part). We have even watched several Spanish movies and they are all the same…puta madre, joder, me cago en _____ anytime, anywhere, with just about anyone. As an American it is quite amusing to listen to. They are very creative! Here is a list of some. I know what they mean, but I don’t think expletives ever translate well, so I’ll give you the literal translation of some words in parenthesis, but you’ll have to extract the full meaning for yourself:

-de puta madre (puta = whore, prostitute, hooker)

-me cago en Dios (cagarse = to shit)
Also seen in …me cago en la leche
…me cago en tu puta madre…they like to shit on things.

-la virgen puta (this one cracks me up! How is that even possible?! Haha)

Then, of course there are the usuals that some of you may have heard before – coño, mierda, hijo de puta, etc.

It has been a fun cultural learning experience and I now find myself easily inserting these foul phrases into my daily conversations in Spanish. Who’d of thought?

Have you heard any creative expletives in Spanish you’d like to share? If so, please leave them in the comments and say which country they hail from. What do you think of this cultural trait in Spain. Love to hear from you!

The Commissioner of Hombres de Paco played by Juan Diego. Here’s some of his best!

Happy travels!


Study Abroad: Worth Every Penny

I remember sitting in the International Studies office (or whatever official name they called it) with brochures spread out across the wooden circular table before me.  Despite the endless amount of programs for an endless amount of countries, they all seemed to say the same things.




I looked at posters and brochures like this…

Typical Study Abroad advert

…for hours…and thought yeah right.  I thought they were exaggerating because, well, I rarely trust any company who is trying to convince me to spend that much money on something.  However, I figured it might not be as good as all that, but at least I’ll finally stop dreaming of traveling abroad and finally just do it.  And it ended up being one of the few times that I could say that it was not in any way false advertising.

I studied in Sevilla, Spain for one semester in 2002 with International Studies Abroad (ISA) and it was the best decision I ever made.  I know sometimes when talking about a product I really like I can sound like an infomercial, but I assure you no one is paying me to say this and I don’t work for any study abroad programs.

BUT WAIT, THERE’S MORE!  If you call in the next 5 minutes, you can get two semesters abroad for the price of one!

Just kidding.

Anywho…I won’t go into crazy details about everything that we did, but I will tell you four important things that happened.

1)  I became quite attached to my host mother.  It was just me and her and I was the first student she hosted, so we had a special connection and I still keep in touch with her today.

2)  Due to the makeup of my particular group of friends plus the fact that my host mother only knew two words in English, my Spanish level went from advanced textbook to actual conversational fluidity.

3)  I became a fan of a couple of the Spanish singers that are still some of my favorites today.  Plus many other odd cultural things I picked up on because I didn’t just visit, I LIVED there.

4)  I truly did make friends of a lifetime.  I move around a lot and friends come in and out of my life, but the close group of people we hung out with while in Spain are still my friends today.  During those 4 months we laughed together, cried together, got annoyed or frustrated with each other…you get the idea.  Since then our visits have been few and far between because we have all been busy traveling to other countries, but when a couple of us do get together, it’s as if no time has passed.  There is so much love and appreciation for this type of friend because you all experienced something great together and something that had its difficulties (namely in the form of culture shock) and that kind of bond is strong in a way that most people can’t understand.  When I started to develop all of my pictures (this was 2002 and I didn’t have a digital camera yet) I realized that I had quite a few pictures that resembled the ones I had seen in those brochures.  My most resembling ‘brochure pic’ isn’t scanned into my computer, but here’s another one of them…

Inside a bull ring in Ronda, Spain

I’m telling you this not to brag about my experience, but to encourage any college students out there reading this to study abroad.  I can’t express in enough words in either language how much it teaches you about yourself, about where you come from and what you are capable of.  I had to take out a big loan to pay for it all, but it’s the only student loan that I don’t mind paying at all because I wouldn’t be who I am today without that experience.  I also wouldn’t have had the courage to move to Asia 8 years later had I not already lived abroad once before.  Once you know you can handle culture shock in another country, you feel like you can take on the world.

I bring all of this up today because one of my closest friends from that semester is coming to visit me next week and every time I talk to her, I am reminded of how great that experience was.  The fact that we do still plan mini reunions together after 9 years (despite that fact that none of us came from the same US cities nor universities) shows you how strong our friendships became.  You can’t put a price on good friendship like that.  It’s worth every penny.

If you are thinking about study abroad but not sure, feel free to bounce your ideas off me, I’m happy to help.  Pick a program.  Go somewhere.  See the world.  Because there is so much that they don’t teach us in school.

And just because I felt like we needed more pics here…this one’s for all the Don Quixote lovers out there:

Las Molinas



Image by -lum via Flickr

A South American acquaintance of mine asked recently, upon learning that I spoke Spanish, why so many Americans learn Spanish.  To me, the answer seemed obvious – because of the Latin influences in the US.  Then I realized that he, along with I’m sure countless others from other countries, are unaware of just how much Latin culture has changed the face of the United States in recent years.  I began to list for him a few reasons.  When I finished, he look genuinely surprised.  He said something to the effect of ‘I had no idea Latinos had that much influence there.  That’s amazing.’  Being a big fan of Latin culture myself, I smiled proudly and agreed.  Being an expat, what I miss most is that very aspect of the US.  I miss the Latin side of America (North America that is).

So I thought I’d share with all of you readers outside the US, the ways in which Spanish is seen in everyday life so that you can better understand the importance of this language in our culture.

  1. “Press 1 for English.”  This (or something similar) is what we hear when we call most 800 numbers or any form of customer service number.  Most large companies have to have bilingual staff on hand to handle Latin clientele.  (This is how I obtained a few of my jobs.)
  2. A number of official documents or forms have Spanish equivalents in both the private and government agencies.
  3. The most frequently offered second language courses in schools and universities is Spanish.  In some areas it is even mandatory for students to take Spanish.  (I was required to do so starting in 6th grade and I am grateful for that!)
  4. You can buy separate TV packages with companies like DirecTV that specifically group together Spanish channels.
  5. Most TVs sold in the US have the ability to add Spanish subtitles to various channels. (…which reminds me of that awesome Friends episode where Marcel the monkey pushes the wrong button and changes everything to Spanish.  haha!  Good stuff…sorry back to business.)
  6. There are numerous successful Spanish TV and radio stations throughout the US.
  7. In music, there has been an incoming stream of crossover artists from Latin America who bring with them bilingual songs as well as bilingual albums.  A few examples would be Ricky Martin, Enrique Iglesias, Daddy Yankee and Shakira.  Most notably the video for Shakira/Alejandro Sanz‘s duet, La Tortura,  was one of the first Spanish language videos to get heavy rotation on MTV and VH1 in 2005.
  8. Spanish can be seen on some product labels and also in some restaurant menus.
  9. The tags of clothing including sizes and how to care for them are in both languages.  For example, you can see a large shirt that says “L/G” on the tag.  G stands for grande, which means large in Spanish.
  10. Machines such as ATMs can be accessed in Spanish.
  11. Mexican restaurants flourish in many areas of the US introducing us to words like taco, burrito, enchilada, guacamole, salsa, fajita, tortilla and flautas.
  12. Linguistically, many Spanish phrases [<—- check out that link, it’s a BIG list!] have gradually been added to American slang or idioms.  Those of non-Hispanic roots can be heard using, or at the very least understanding, words and phrases like que pasa, hombre, amigo, chico, papi, mami, mucho, grande, cerveza, por favor, uno, hola, adios, fiesta, siesta, agua, hasta luego, hasta la vista…and a plethora of inappropriate words (which usually spread the fastest).
I’m sure there are plenty of others, so if you think of them, feel free to comment and add them to the list.
Spanish may not be the second official language of the US, but it’s certainly shaping up to be.