Funny Spaniardisms – Part 1


So we’re about a half-year into our adventure and I’ve been keeping a list of “Spaniardisms” that have struck me as funny in the eyes of this North American.

Language Compliments

Andalusians are a warm and welcoming lot and appreciate any effort foreigners take to speak their language.  As a result, I’ve noticed that they can be overly complimentary to beginner speakers struggling to get out a couple of understandable words, much less a coherent sentence.


This happened to me quite a bit when I first arrived “oh, your Spanish is so good” they’d gush.  Turns out, I know it was (and still is) quite terrible.  The level of my Spanish is inversely proportional to the number of compliments people make about it.  I’ll know I’m in a good place with my ability when they make no mention of it.


Librarians in southern Spain are not armed with the familiar command to keep things quiet along with the visual of the index finger placed vertically over pursed lips.  Instead, they’re armed with a quicker, sharper “chst!”.  I’m not sure it works any better than “shhhh!” but my attempts using what I know haven’t worked so well in the classroom.

Another use for this sound is to get someone’s attention.  We were out for drinks one sunny afternoon and I was having trouble getting the waiter’s attention.  A Spanish friend of mine let me in on a little secret.  She taught me how to execute two quick, staccato sounds like this and it worked like a charm (“chst, chst!).  I’ve used it ever since.  Spaniards’ ears are accustomed to perking up when they hear this noise.

Chst! Chst!  Excuse me, Waiter?  (no more long waits for service)

No Running!

The next Spaniard I see anxiously running somewhere will be the first.  They just don’t seem to mind if they’re late.

Looking Good, (Whap!)

I’m not sure what this means or where the tradition comes from, but after you get a haircut, it’s not uncommon for those closest to you to give you a slap on the back of the neck.  I suspect it is just a guy thing since my boys are always a little apprehensive going to school the day after a fresh shearing.  I’ve also noticed this phenomenon as an adult.  The wife has not reported such a thing.


When giving cheers here in Spain, it’s customary to look the person with whom you are clinking glasses dead in the eye while you proclaim “¡Salud!“, otherwise you come off as a weirdo.


No Steins

Speaking of cheers, if you’re drinking a beer, there is a good chance you’ll be clinking a glass with a long stem.  It’s not all that uncommon to be served beer in a wine glass.  This is completely normal to me now.  You don’t want your hand heating up the beer!


Use this word to address someone in a friendly tone, mostly in moments when they need encouragement and a little confidence:  ¡Venga, campeón! (Come on, Champion!).  This can often be heard on my sons’ soccer field or in mundane places like the dentist office.  This is one I’m definitely going to bring home in English.

¡Venga Campeónes!


Who’s Last In Line, Anyway?

The line down the street to purchase tickets to the Christmas lottery.
The line down the street to purchase tickets to the Christmas lottery.

Queues in Spain are pretty common – at the post office, butcher, photocopier, bread store and just about any place of service that is undermanned.  Many of these places have a ticket dispenser to keep the order.  But absent one of those, the next best thing is to simply barge into the crowd of people waiting and demand “Who’s last?!” ¿Quién es el último?

The person behind whom you need to wait will identify themselves.  From here you have two jobs: 1) keep an eye on that person and know that when they’ve been addressed and 2) when the next person walks in and queries ‘who’s last?’, you identify yourself.

The best part of this whole thing is that now that everyone is sorted out, there isn’t a need to form a line.  Everyone can remain in their jumbled order and peace can be kept since everyone knows who is immediately in front of them.

No Pre-Paying

One aspect I absolutely love about Spain is that you don’t even think about paying for your food until you are completely done with your meal.  And you get to determine when you are finished.  No waiter will proactively bring you a check without it being asked for so they can turn the table.  This remains true at any eating establishment including Dunkin’ Donut-like shops and my favorite Kebab stands where you dine-in.  The only places I’ve seen charge before your food arrives are the usual American chains of Burger King and McDonald’s.


Wh@t’s Th@t?

In emails from the school and texts from Spanish friends, I’ve started to notice words with the ‘@’ symbol embedded in them.  Turns out they are using it for words to represent both male and female versions.  The word for child, for example, is hijo for a boy or hija for a girl.  If you want to refer to both boys and girls and use only one word, you can then write it as hij@s.

Not so much funny as just ingenious.  Kind of like the equivalent of using ‘s/he’ in English text.

But I’m a Grande!

Sizing in a foreign country is always fun.  I like European sizing for shoes because I feel like it is more incremental and I can get a better fit.  For the life of me, though, I can’t remember my size and always need to resort to removing my shoe to see what it is.

I don’t have that problem with the rest of my clothing, however.  Like everywhere else, a lot of the casual clothing here is made in China and therefore sized S, M, L.  The problem is I can’t order a “Large” because they don’t understand what that is.  In my mind, the next logical way to articulate that I want the biggest size is to order a “grande“.  Nope, that doesn’t register either.  I have to order an “ele” (‘L’ in Spanish).

How About You?

Are you aware of any particularly Spanish “isms” to share?  Can you elaborate on any that I’ve listed?

11 thoughts on “Funny Spaniardisms – Part 1”

  1. Practical and funny observations! Love the “whap” after a shear! A friend saw the beer in a wine glass and thought it unique, but I didn’t give it a thought. Guess my lack of various styles of glasses would work just fine there.

    1. Yeah, I hope someone chimes in with a reason for the post-haircut whack on the back of the head. Or I’ll have to wait to ask at next week’s ‘intercambio’ with a local.

      1. My friend in Houston (mostly non-immigrants) is a middle school teacher and she told me how all the boys slap each other on the back of the neck and say “fresh cut!” whenever anyone gets a haircut. Maybe it’s not a Spain thing after all.

        1. Interesting. I’ve asked several locals what the deal is with that and I’ve yet to get a good answer. Maybe it is universal! Thanks for stopping by, Jill.

  2. Haha these are great. The first time we heard “chst!” we had no idea what was happening.

    Also, don’t forget to tap your glass on the table after looking people in the eye and giving the salud. As they say here, “Él que no apoya, no folla.” (I’ll let you translate that one so as to keep this family-friendly haha.)

  3. That kebab menu sign is a mind blowing jumble of cultures. Halal Americano with Frankfurt [Germany] sausages, payable in euros. And zumo naranja is a new one. Is that just orange juice (jugo is what they call it here)?

    And on the sizes, it seems like most of my clothes come with the label already in Spanish. G for grande (or EG extra grande). Is everyone fit there, or do they also carry “American” sizes like XL and XXL? Just need to know if I have to go on a diet before visiting.

    1. Yeah it’s called zumo in Spain, jugo in Latin America. There are a lot of those, not dissimilar to various vocabulary differences between the US and UK.

      The best is refrigerator. Called refrigerador in Mexico but nevera here in Spain, which is multitudes easier to say in Spanish haha.

      1. I also like how they have both ‘bananas’ (from S. America) and ‘plátanos’ (from Canary Islands). I’ve also heard them here refer to a fridge as a ‘frigo’.

        Interesting that I haven’t yet seen a G or EG yet. I’ve seen XL sizes but not sure how many X’s up they go. Probably varies quite a bit by brand, etc. People here in general are on the smaller side and while I could get away with a M in some places back home, I find that I’m very much an L here.

Your Thoughts?