Monday, May 12, 2008

Be careful what you say down here: It could get you arrested.

Things you can't say in Castellano.

My daughter and I take Spanish class here in Buenos Aires. Well we can't call it spanish class because they don't really speak Spanish here in the Rio Plata region. They certainly don't speak the Tex-mex I know. Hell, they don't even speak the Spanish from Spain.

They speak Castellano.

What is the difference? A lot. It's like the old Steve Martin bit about how the French have a different word for everything! Same here but they have a different word in Castellano for everything you managed to learn in high-school spanish class, rendering all prior spanish knowledge useless.

For instance, strawberries are not fresas like in Mexico and Spain, they are frutillas here. A jacket or coat is not a chaqueta it is a campera. The list goes on and on. It is very similar to how those crazy brits have different words for things like elevator and umbrella.

But there is more. There is this whole vos sos conjugation instead of tu eres. So my most-feared part of spanish class, verb conjugations, gets all messed up down here.

Another thing that drives most Texans and Mexicans crazy is the whole "ll" sound. It gets changed to "sh" so it is not tortilla it is tortisha. It sounds worse than my New Jersey friends trying to pronounce it "tortila".

The thing that causes the most embarrassment is the large number of innocuous words that are suddenly "dirty" here. Case in point: Concha. Everybody learns that the word for sea shell is concha (see my four-year-old son's flash card above). However, here you can't say it in public because it is a very dirty word. (Think dirty slang for a female body part).

Another, word you learned in spanish 101 is the verb coger which means to take, to grab, or to catch. Everywhere else in the spanish speaking world you use it to say you want to catch a taxi or to take a bus.

Not here. In Buenos Aires, coger (pronounced co-hare) means you want to have sexual relations with the object of the sentence you use it with. You really can't say, "¡Nececito coger un Taxi!" without being hauled off to jail.

A fellow Texan and former BA expat, Brian Winter has very funny story in his book, "Long After Midnight at the Niño Bien: A Yanqui's Missteps in Argentina" about how he mistakenly approached an old lady at bus stop and asked her if he could have sexual relations with the bus.

So do yourself a favor and learn the difference between Castellano and Spanish before you come down and say something like, "Wow! Look at the size of those conchas in the window!", like I did.

What else can you not say without being arrested in Argentina these days? My favorite is "¡Estoy con el campo!"


Anonymous said...

Hi Dave,
The difference is not between Castellano and Spanish, in fact all Spanish is originally Castellano (from the Castilla region of Spain). The difference is vernacular. Each country in Latin America, even each region or city, has its own way of speaking. In the Rio de la Plata region the Italian, especially Napolitan, influence in our language has been paramount.
A curious example of how vernacular Spanish could be is the word "guagua" . In Cuba and other Caribbean countries it means "bus" but in Chile it means "baby". Coger in Chile, like in Argentina as you correctly pointed out, means to have intercourse, but in most places in Latin America (and Spain) including Cuba it means to take. Now imagine a Cuban going to Santiago and asking "donde puede coger la guagua?" Horrible misunderstanding.
Another example, "Panqueques con dulce de leche" a favorite dessert in Argentina, will not appeal to many Argentinians in Mexico judging solely by their name: "Crepas con cajeta" (Cajeta is an offensive, old term used in Argentina as a synonym for "concha" (the female part, not the shell).
By the way, your pictures are superb, always. I especially enjoyed the series from route 40.

Longhorn Dave said...


That was a good one on la guagua. We are also fond of cajeta. We'll be careful not to mention it when we ask for dessert at our favorite mexican restaurant here. We'll stick to flan.

Hopefully the post didn't come across as picking on Castellano and really more as in jest. (shh..The real point is the small political statement at the end. )

We actually love the sound of Castellano over the spanish we are use to hearing in Texas. It sounds so much more European. Like a cross between Italian and Spanish I guess.

Anonymous said...

It didn't sound like you were picking on Castellano at all. It made me laugh. favorite... yummy.

Anonymous said...

There is an excellent book called, Che Boludo, a grongos guide to understanding Argentines written by James Bracken. It is available at Amazon or in some of the BA book stores. James lives here in Bariloche and has some great slang, highly suggested.

Longhorn Dave said...

Thanks Jamie, I'll have to check it out. Hope you guys are staying ash free and are able to enjoy the fall color in Bariloche.

Anonymous said...

Just a tip for the conjugation of "vos": it is the same conjugation of "vosotros", but without the "i". E.g.: vosotros sabéis, vos sabés; vosotros amáis, vos amás; vosotros decís, vos decís (in this case it remains the same).


Longhorn Dave said...


Thanks for the scoop on the vos congregation.

Unfortunately, living in Texas, I never had to learn the vosotros thing. Mexico and Latin America just use Ustedes for both formal and familiar "you all" or as we say in Texas "ya'll".

So I guess in a way, Texas english is no different than Buenos Aires spanish. Every region in the world adds their own unique twist to their language.

Anonymous said...

Yo estoy con el campo.
Tú estás con el campo.
Todos estamos con el campo.

Another fan of your pictures.

Anonymous said...

Dave, this is my favorite entry so far. I think "y'all" is the more common spelling, though. --Jane

Longhorn Dave said...


I'm such a bad Texan. I've been gone so long, I'm forgeting to how to spell in Texan.

Anonymous said...

Hey Dave-if you get the chance, check out the commercials on You Tube of the Llama que llama-it's a kick-lots of *doble sentido* and a nugget of Argentinean pop culture.

The Travel Addict said...

Reminds me of a recent trip to Huatulco - I'm talking to our driver in Spanish when he asks my wife if she speaks Spanish. She answers "un poquito" then points at me and says, "el es mujer". I let her know she just called me a woman.

Longhorn Dave said...

Rebecca: Thanks for the Llama que Llama videos. That is funny stuff.

Travel Addict: I always use to get "mujer" and "mejor" mixed up until someone pointed out that My whore is no woman.

Anonymous said...

Talking about Tortishas, don'tcall the lady who sale them "Tortishera"...unless she is really a "Dike"

Anonymous said...

I mean Dyke said...

Castellano vs Spanish is like British English vs American, or Scotish, Irish, etc. Why!!! would Americans be surprised if a word here means different than in Spain or Mexico?!! When I lived in the US Americans called elevators what British call Lifts, Apartments to what English call flats, toilettes to waterclosets, GAS to PETROL!!! etc etc I don´t even know what kind of English Scotish, Australians, South Africans use to name certain stuff!!!!

Anyway the most AMAZING contribution I want to share here is that in SPAIN MOST PEOPLE DON´T SPEAK SPANISH!!! The official language is Castellano from the Castilla region but the rest of people living there speak Gallego, Catalan, Basque, etc, etc, There are many languages in SPAIN Castellano is just one of them...yes the official but just one among many in Spain...amazing uh...

Javier said...

Hi Dave,

to add to what has already been said about Castellano (Castilian):
There is no such thing as Spanish language. It would be like saying that americans speak British.
In Britain you have English, Welsh, and Irish (is there an Scottish language?).
Spain has Castilian (Castellano), Basque, Catalonian, Gallego, Valencian (and some other minor dialects).
Most people in Spain happen to speak Castilian. And as it was the official language of the Spanish Empire, everybody in their ex-colonies (as Argentina) speak Castilian.
The difference you find between Mexican Castilian and Argentinian Castilian, is due to the regional evolution of the language.
For instance, instead of saying "vete", we say "andate", which is obviously italian.

JOTAELE said...

Hi Dave:
The LL sound used to be like j in JET.The SH sound is 30 years old (tops).
Is not used by well educated people, unfortunately now has spread all over, but well educated people pronounce "TORTILLA" THAT LLA should sound like a J as in JAPAN.

Anonymous said...

All Spanish in the Americas is Castellano. Castellano is only used to differentiate it from the other languages of Spain. Many other countries also used Vos, not just Argentina.

Also you said "Mexico and Latin America" as if Argentina was not part of Latin America

Anonymous said...

Can you please tell me WHEN AND WHERE were you or people arrested in Argentina for saying the word CONCHA? Nobody gets arrested down there for saying CONCHA or COJER or PUTA MADRE, or PELOTUDO. Nobody gets arrested for even telling other person: ANDATE A LA REPUTA MADRE QUE TE PARIO (something in the lines of: GO F*** YOUR SELF YOU MOTHER F****) Some of your remarks you have posted on your blog are not only insulting but also totally ignorant.

I have a solution for you, your family and all the so-called smart people going to Argentina from over here... the north america (not AMERICA... ALL THE COUNTRIES ON AMERICA ARE AMERICA... and by the way there is only 1 america since the continent is not divided by any crossing ocean... and there are only 3 americas.. South, Central and North)... DO NOT MOVE OVER THERE. Or get the fuck back to the United States.

As the saying says... when in rome do as the romans. Stop complaining and remarking shit about that country and come back to Texas where everything is so good and so perfect.

I hate to read/hear about how people from the US are leaving the US and the only thing they do is complaining about the countries were they are living, places that they were not forced to move.
It reminds me on HOW MUCH US PEOPLE hates to hear that MEXICANS talk about Mexico and compares it with the US. Well same thing that I say to them I will tell to you... GO BACK (COME BACK) TO YOUR FUCKING OH SO PERFECT COUNTRY and that will solve your problems.

instead of complain and talk shit about the country were you are living just try to enjoy it. Try to find the way to live your life without comparing all you have left back. OR COME BACK.

And by the way... In argentina they don't speak neither SPANISH NOR CASTELLANO. Argentina was one of the countries getting the majority of Spanish and Italian immigration and the language spoken down there is a mix (in most of the cases) of Spanish and Italian.

AND, to finish... MEXICO is Latin America as well as every country under the US. it is called LATIN AMERICA because the languages spoken down there comes all from LATIN...

Have fun and enjoy and instead of complain enjoy and LEARN... the same way I had to learn who was the first, second and third president of the US the day I left Buenos Aires to move to the US.

Longhorn Dave said...


Relex. I love it in BA and I even love the spanish that is used down here.

You have way over reacted to what was meant to be a humorous post on how Yankis get themselves in trouble by trying to use the spanish they learned in high school down here.

There was no complaining meant be inferred from this point. Hopefully it helps some poor Yanki from making the mistakes I have when speaking spanish down here.

Take a chill pill dude! I am sorry my humor is not your cup of tea. Maybe it is bad humor, but I find nothing offensive about the post and stand by it.

Anonymous said...

I've been following your blog for a while. I grew up in Argentina and I'm now in Texas and I find your experiences very interesting.

I wanted to give my $.02 on the debate of Castellano vs. Español. In essence both terms are synonyms. The debate gain more momentum when last rendition of the Spanish constitution adopted the term Castilian (to refer to the Spanish that we know) because Galician, Catalan and the Basque are also considered Spanish languages. So, the term Castilian or Spanish is really tied to a regional preference. As per the Venezuelan constitution, for instance, Castilian is referred to as their official language while in Equatorial Guinea "español" is considered to be the official language.

Additionally, the best explanation I have found on the use of the pronoun "VOS" seems to be tied to the fact that certain areas, like Argentina and Uruguay, did not have vice-regal courts. Mexico and Peru, where vice-regal courts existed, had better ways of communicating within their respective metropolis which received and adopted the changes that were taking place in Spain. In those particular areas the use of "VOS" is practically non-existent.

Keep up the good work. Chau y Saludos from South Texas.

Anonymous said...

how did you get the opportunity to move to argentina? was it through your job? Im asking because im trying to move down there myself.

Longhorn Dave said...


I was taking two years off from work. My family chose BA because it was beautiful and fairly inexpensive. Plus my family could learn a new culture and practice our spanish.

Anonymous said...

What a dream. I actually want to buy some property there. I have family there and absolutly love my Argentinean culture. Everytime I have visited it has been so hard to leave and each time I get scared I will never return back to the states. That is why I would love to stay at least a year to get the experience. Did you rent? and what barrio did you stay in?

Anonymous said...

Dave. Most people in Baires speak "Lunfardo", a lingo equivalent to the US "Jive". It has criminal connotations to avoid "detection" but it is wonderfully creative. I has it's poets and dictionary. Here you have a tango by Celedonio Esteban Flores. It is incomprehensible for other Spanish readers but very clear for a porteño. Please note: it is written in perfect "Alexandrines" meter. The measure used by the great Spanish baroque poets of the seventeen century:

"Mano a Mano"

Rechiflao en mi tristeza, hoy te evoco y veo que has sido
de mi pobre vida paria sólo una buena mujer
tu presencia de bacana puso calor en mi nido
fuiste buena, consecuente, y yo sé que me has querido
como no quisiste a nadie, como no podrás querer.

Se dio el juego de remanye cuando vos, pobre percanta,
gambeteabas la pobreza en la casa de pensión:
hoy sos toda una bacana, la vida te ríe y canta,
los morlacos del otario los tirás a la marchanta
como juega el gato maula con el misero ratón.

Hoy tenés el mate lleno de infelices ilusiones
te engrupieron los otarios, las amigas, el gavión
la milonga entre magnates con sus locas tentaciones
donde triunfan y claudican milongueras pretensiones
se te ha entrado muy adentro en el pobre corazón.

Nada debo agradecerte, mano a mano hemos quedado,
no me importa lo que has hecho, lo que hacés ni lo que harás;
los favores recibidos creo habértelos pagado
y si alguna deuda chica sin querer se había olvidado
en la cuenta del otario que tenés se la cargás.

Mientras tanto, que tus triunfos, pobres triunfos pasajeros,
sean una larga fila de riquezas y placer;
que el bacán que te acamala tenga pesos duraderos
que te abrás en las paradas con cafishios milongueros
y que digan los muchachos: “Es una buena mujer”.

Y mañana cuando seas deslocado mueble viejo
y no tengas esperanzas en el pobre corazón
si precisás una ayuda, si te hace falta un consejo
acordate de este amigo que ha de jugarse el pellejo
pÂ’ayudarte en lo que pueda cuando llegue la ocasión.

Unknown said...

Q onda Sr Dave?

I would like to add my commentary re the double-L sound in BsAs. There was a post stating ll's sound like "sh" where another post stated it's really like "j". I would like to make a clarification based on my experience living in BA as it's really more a combination of the two, the differences noted below.

When I first moved to Palermo Soho I quickly found out that Porteños y non-Porteños alike in BsAs pronounce the word "keys" (= llaves) with a mix of j and sh (=zj), so it has a harder sound. Ergo, it's actually pronounced like "zjaves" (the s sound in "pleasure" and "treasure").

Difference: The soft "sh"/"jj" sound is distinctive from the north, por ejemplo, la cuidad de Salta, where they pronounce llaves like "shaves" (the s sound in "shake" and "shock"). The friends I have from there ensure I know the difference and love playfully pointing out any slip-ups on my behalf.

Now that I think back on it, it's a bit strange to think that I used to pronounced my ll's with the sh (shake) sound as now the zj (treasure) enunciation rolls off my tongue without thinking twice. The vos form on the other hand... inicialmente fue un poco difícil, pero con el tiempo y el apoyo (y paciencia) de mis amigos, estoy acostumbrado ahora.

Además, el libro, Che Boludo (la 2a edición) de James Bracken, es re buena en la comprensión de las idiosincrasias de los Argentinos (y es muy divertido también). Es pequeño, conciso y explica cosas como "Lunfardo", "vos" conjugaciones y tiene un diccionario que explica las palabras como "coger", "concha", "boludo" (= un hombre con testículos grandes) y mi favorito, "acabar" - que literalmente significa que haya terminado de hacer algo (por ejemplo, "acabo de comer" = "I just finished eating"), pero en Argentina significa tener un orgasmo... Q cómico (pero importante) son estas diferencias! Pero, en serio, es muy útil leer.

Buena suerte con todo!

Anonymous said...

Very usefull this post!!
My daughter is about to go to a university in Argentina to improve her spanish! I'll show her this post, I think she must read this
thanks for sharing!