Spanish they don’t teach you in class

Our friends Mark and Christine visited San Miguel de Allende a few years ago and Aarón became Mark’s Spanish tutor. So naturally when we met our friends on a trip to the U.S. the following year, Aarón asked Mark a question in Spanish. Mark laughed and said, “Sorry, I didn’t catch that. My Mexican is rusty.”

1471218_10202287337957932_465757089_nAs the only Mexican in the group, Aarón had to assume Mark had just called him rusty, and he began to make squeaking noises á la the Tin Man from The Wizard of Oz. “Oops! I mean, my Spanish,” said Mark. And now when we talk on Skype, he asks me, “How’s the rusty Mexican?” and I reply that he’s well.

Spanish is a beautiful language whether you speak it or not. It’s a language that can bring you to tears when you hear a bolero, even if its meaning is a mystery.

Sign at El Gran Panzón restaurant in San Miguel's Fábrica la Aurora art gallery complex.
Sign at El Gran Panzón restaurant in San Miguel’s Fábrica la Aurora art gallery complex.

As a writer, I enjoy linguistics. I want to speak Spanish like a native, using idiomatic expressions and slang. I take delight in recognizing a double entendre or a play on words of any kind in Spanish, as I take it to mean I’m getting better at the language. Here’s a fun one: The name of this restaurant can be read as Grandpa ‘n’ Son or as Gran Panzón!

Occasionally Aarón gives me insights into the Spanish language that I’ve never heard in class. Here are just a few, and I’ll add more when I think of them.

  • There is no literal translation for “Sí como no…” It means “Yes.”
  • “No que no” means the same as, “See? Huh? See?” ( while jabbing the listener with your elbow).  Like, “You didn’t think I could do it but here I am doing it!” or “You didn’t think it would turn out well but check it out! ¡No que no!
  • Y’know how there’s a few seconds’ delay between dropping a coin into a payphone (remember those?) and the moment you get a dial tone? In Mexico, payphones used to take a 20-centavo coin: “el veinte” (el beh-EEN-teh). So today, if it takes a moment between the telling of a joke, or someone explaining something, and your “getting” it, here’s what to say at that “aha!” moment: “Ya me cayó el veinte!” (Yah meh ca-YOH el beh-EEN-teh. The coin has dropped and there’s a dial tone—the connection is established. I get it!)
  • When you want to say you’re going to take a shower or a bath, either way, you say, “Voy a bañarme.” (Voy ah bahn-YAHR-meh.) Or if you want to say specifically that you will be in the bathtub (i.e. with bubblebath, candles, wine and music and don’t bother me!), you say, “Voy a meterme en la tina.” And the expression for “I’m gonna take a quick shower” is “Voy a darme un regaderazo” (Voy ah DAHR-meh oohn reg-ah-dehr-AH-soh). Why “regaderazo”? Because “regadera” is a shower head.
  • Someone posted an ad to sell a refrigerator: “Refri en venta, con las 3b.” I asked Aarón what “las 3b” (“tres b”) means and he said “bueno (in good working order), bonito (nice looking) y barato (inexpensive).” You’ll see “con las 3b” in want ads, too.
  • In Spanish, “mesa” means table. “Mesón” means really big table. In San Miguel de Allende, you will find the street called Mesones: really big tables. Why is it called that? Because in the 18th century there were inns along that street—the huge, arched entryways of which have been preserved—where travelers could enter on horseback, leave their mount to graze in back, and sit at a large table in the front courtyard for dinner. You’ll see mesones in every Antonio Banderas film. (By the way, in elementary school geography class, we learned of a land formation called a “mesa.” But did they tell us that “mesa” means table in Spanish? I don’t recall.)
  • Aarón and I went shopping at Costco and I had to use the bathroom. We asked where it was and the greeter said, “Al fondo y a la derecha.” (In back and to the right.) Aarón said in Mexico the bathroom in a public place is almost always in back and to the right…so instead of saying, “I’m going to the bathroom,” you can just say, “Voy al fondo y a la derecha,” and Mexicans will understand!

See how much fun it is to learn Spanish? ¡Ándale! Let’s go!

18 March 2016

Elizabeth demonstrates the gesture for “Cool tune”!  (model: Harold James)

When native English speakers of a certain age were younger, and something was cool, or we liked the music, we’d say “Rock on!” Turns out that when a song comes on that a Mexican likes, they might start miming the application of deoderant. That’s because instead of “Rock on,” their expression is “ROLL on”—as in roll-on antiperspirant! (But with only one “l” or you get a “y” sound and that changes everything.) This was explained to me by the Mexicans at karaoke. Now you know!


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