Ugh! Spanish… and those Terms of Endearment

Ξ July 10th, 2005 | → 0 Comments | ∇ Costa Rica, Humor |

I can speak a bit of Spanish. In San José, I am able to say just about anything I need to say. I can understand those who speak Spanish to me as long as they don’t go full speed. I do OK. I make mistakes of course, but most of my Tico friends are patient souls and “get it”.

However, when I go to the country… they speak a who different Spanish. I hate to visit ML’s family as I cannot understand a single word. It’s like I fell off the boat yesterday.

I can also write a bit of Spanish though the little accent marks can cause problems. You wouldn’t THINK they are that important, but they are!


A few months ago, a woman wrote to me seeking employment. Her email was in Spanish and I had no problem understanding her. She gave me a brief resumé of her experience and mentioned she had one child, a son.

I wrote her back, and one of my questions was about the age of her son. In Spanish, we ask “how many years do you have”. Seemed simple enough!

However… the word for years in Spanish is años. Notice that little thingy over the n? That is a tilde. As it turns out, it is quite important! It not only affects how the word is pronounced, it can also affect the meaning. If you leave off the tilde, you of course get anos. Well anos IS a different word in Spanish. It means anus!

When I replied to her I asked “Cuantos anos tiene su hijo?” Or “how many rectums has your son?”.

In typical Tico style, she replied “El tiene solo un ano pero tiene doce años! This translates to “He has only one rectum but he is 12 years old!”

I hired her of course.

Sometimes my lack of Spanish causes a commotion. When I first arrived in Costa Rica, devoid of Spanish skills, I found myself in need of toilet paper.

I went to the local store and asked for papel (the only word I knew dealing with paper). After several misdirections (i.e. school paper, etc.), I found myself in true NEED of toilet paper if you catch my drift.

In exasperation, I finally remembered another word dealing with “that area” so asked (quite loudly) where I could find “papel de culo“. Ummm… culo, as it turns out, is a VERY bad word and is NOT used in public. Well after the initial gasps, everyone in the store fell out all over the place in peals of laughter. God I love Ticos!

In any case, my meaning was crystal clear, I got my “papel higiénico” (the correct words as I learned later), and rushed home.

I have never returned to that store.

Terms of endearment are really different. In the US, we call our lovers sweetie, darling, etc. Here, we use mi vida, mi corazon, mi amor or respectively, my life, my heart and my love. Cool huh?

However, there are a ton of other words… such as gordita, mi gordita linda, flaca, and negra. Gordo means fat and flaco means skinny. The “a” means female! Lindo is “pretty”.

These thus translate to “little fat girl”, “my pretty little fat girl”, “skinny woman”, and “black woman” respectively with the last one having nothing to do with the skin color of your sweetie!

How different the cultures! I don’t believe I ever even thought for a second to call any of my US-born girlfriends “My pretty little fat girl” and I know had I done so, I might not be writing in this blog today! But that is how it is here. I DO call ML gordita (she is NOT… she is thin and tall), and she calls me her “gordito lindo” (far more accurate except for the “lindo” art).

These terms of endearment are not limited to couples. Everywhere you hear men calling their male friends “gordo”, “flaco” and others.

What the meaning is for negra is more difficult for me to understand. I am not permitted to call ML negra until after we are married. I will too!


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