Learning to Swear Like a Spaniard

I speak Spanish. I honed it in Spain. Living in Mexico as I do, though, I found things really took off when I learned a little Mexican.

But wait, you say: Both Spain and Mexico speak Spanish. And they do. Actually, so do most countries in the Western Hemisphere—which means that, if you speak it, you have almost entire continents you can travel without needing a phrase book.

But just as English varies from English-speaking country to country, each with its own little vocabulary quirks, so does Spanish. And it helps to learn the local slang.

I’ll give you a tip: We’re a low bunch. The first things that vary are profanity and sex terms (and there’s a lot of overlap, obviously). Honestly, it’s a minefield of titillation.

Spain, for instance, has a real love-hate relationship with religion. So one of the most common phrases in Spain for saying something is a pain in the butt is to describe it as “la hostia.” That’s right—the host. As in, communion wafer. Oh, grow up!

And while that’s crude—but okay in some circles—in Spain, it’s beyond the pale in devout Mexico. In Mexico, I’ve learned to say that things are “una molestia“—”a bother.”

And then there’s “coger.” One of the most useful verbs in Spanish, it means “to get” or “to take.” As in, take a taxi or a train, or even take an object from a table and put it in your pocket. In Spain, there’s a clear distinction between when you use “coger” and when you use “tomar“—which also means “to take,” but in the sense of taking a cup of tea or taking something seriously.

In Mexico, though, “coger” has long since been hijacked for nefarious purposes. It’s a slang term for having sex—though preferably in private and with a member of one’s own species. So the first time I used “coger” among friends in Mexico—and I was referring to picking up an inanimate object like a knife or a spoon—they fell about laughing.

Of course, I knew immediately what I’d done. And I thought, very irritatedly, “Oh, grow up!” But to no avail: They continued to roll about the floor and slap their thighs, guffawing.

So it was a pleasant surprise to go to Ecuador for the first time and discover that, yes, “coger” is used there as it should be—as a very convenient verb for picking up objects (not people). I must have used it in every other sentence, just to get it out of my system.

Funny, entertaining experiences like that are common when you learn the local language. And, every little bit you learn helps you integrate a little better into wherever you live. So definitely, learn some Spanish—and then, for good measure, learn a little Mexican. Or Ecuadorian. Or Nicaraguan. Or…well, you get the picture.

Editor’s note: When you speak even a little bit of the local language, you enrich your experience tenfold—and gain some funny anecdotes along the way, as Glynna’s story shows. But don’t worry if you don’t have the time or energy to take long, tedious, expensive Spanish lessons. One special program, specifically designed for baby boomers, will have you speaking Spanish in just 20 minutes. You can get yours with a deep discount for the next three days only here.


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