Hey, you. Headed to Spain?
Whether you have a few rusty phrases of high school Spanish, or you’re a perfectly fluent speaker of Mexican, Argentinian or some other variety, you’re going to want to brush up on the European version if you want to sound like you really know what’s going on.
This post will focus on the oh-so-European, thhethheo-infused (more properly, ceceo-infused) Spanish words and phrases that I have found to be the most useful when living and traveling in Spain.
This is informal vocabulary that will help you sound like a native—or at least a culturally aware, advanced-level speaker. But you’ll also want to brush up on the grammatical differences between European and Latin American Spanish first.
You should also—and I cannot stress this enough—learn at least one local joke before you head to a new country. However lame they may be, they’re a way to show cultural awareness in the same way you do by learning informal phrases. They’re also great for when you want to break the ice, make people smile and blab about nothing—the absolute favorite pastime in Spain.
Okay, without further ado, here’s my list of informal words and phrases for sounding like a local. Note that these are for Spain—try them out in other Spanish-speaking lands and you may just be met with blank stares.
Also, informal language varies widely even within Spain, so while I’ve picked very commonly used phrases, I can’t guarantee that every one will work in every single region.
24 Chill Informal Spanish Phrases from Spain to Whip Out at the Bar
I’m sure you already know how to greet people in Spanish. But you’re just as likely to hear the first 3 phrases listed here as greetings in Spain:
1. ¡Guapo! (Handsome!)
This way of saying “Hello!” of course declines according to whom you’re addressing, so if you’re greeting a woman you should say guapa, and a group of women is guapas. A group of all men or a mixed group (men an women) are guapos. Unlike in Anglophone cultures, calling someone beautiful is not seen as a come-on nor as threatening, but rather just friendly or endearing.
That said, heterosexual men who feel the need to prove as much generally avoid using guapo among themselves.
2. ¡Querido! (Darling!)
This declines the same way. It may seem rather personal, but don’t be surprised if shop owners and other relative strangers use it with you. It declines in the same way as guapo.
3. ¡Guapetón! (Mega-handsome!)
A magnified version of guapo, and…okay, this can sometimes be a bit flirty, but still in a friendly way. The other declinations are guapetona, guapetones and guapetonas.
After you greet someone in Spain, you generally say something inane about either the weather, fútbol (football, soccer) or the tragedy that we call life. There are some great expressions for dealing with the latter.
4. Estoy a dos velas (I’m broke)
This is a common one for a Spain en crisis (in economic crisis). When you’re out of money and haven’t got two pennies to rub together, you can use this expression, which literally means “I’m at two candles” (i.e., I only have two candles left).
5. Estoy chungo (I feel sick/crappy)
This is a very common informal expression. The inanimate can also be chungo, so, for example, when el televisor está chungo (“the TV is on the fritz”) it needs to be repaired or replaced.
6. Esto es un rollo (This is such a drag/bore/bummer.)
The word rollo (roll, reel) is extremely popular in the above phrase in Spain, but be careful as rollo can mean many different things depending on the context. For example: tener un rollo (have a romance), buen rollo (good vibes) and es otro rollo (that’s a different matter).
7. Esto es un lío (This is a mess)
Lío (trouble, mess) is also very common but complicated. Tener un lío means to have an affair/sexual outlet or buddy.
8. ¡Qué trágico! (How tragic!)
You’re not likely to actually hear this out of Spaniards, but I find the phrase to be incredibly useful in Spain once I’ve gotten tired of listening to others spouting the previous phrases in this section.
Just as with the English translation, it’s over the top, and indicates that you’re taking all of these tales of melodrama with a bit of irony, sense of relativism and are perhaps ready to move on.
Not everything is tragic, of course, in Spain, and even if things are at their worst Spaniards also tend to be able to look on the bright side. And then, of course, sometimes things are just fabulous…here’s how you say so.
9. ¡Esto es la hostia! (This is amazing!)
Una hostia is a communion wafer, but I’ve never been to a Catholic service and I’ve heard the word everywhere in Spain. You can also shorten it to ¡Hosti! (kind of like “Damn!”) and use it to express surprise, anger, shock or amazement.
10. ¡Qué chuli! (Cool!)
We’ve covered the word chulo (also meaning cool) in our previous post on slang from Spain, but if you’re a thirteen-year-old, super-preppy Spanish girl at the mall (or you want to sound like one) you’ll say chuli instead. Older folks may use it for giggles.
11. ¡Mola! (That’s awesome!)
Molar is a nice, regular -ar verb, and an informal way of complimenting or expressing enthusiasm about something. Esta camisa mola, for example, means “this shirt is fantastic.”
12. ¡Es un subidón! (What a rush!)
On a high? Things are really rolling? In Spain, you say it’s a subidón, the magnified version of subida (increase, rise, incline).
There are some lovely ways to express confusion, forgetfulness or being at a loss. They’re funny, but also particularly wonderful because as something that happens to you, not something that you actually do.
That is, the subject of all of these sentences is some silly thing and the object is the person who is confused/lost. Se me ha ido literally means “it went away on/escaped from me,” and you can use it with…
13. ¡Se me ha ido la olla! (I’m at a loss!)
Olla is a pan. Damn that pan, for making me lose my train of thought!
14. ¡Se me ha ido la pinza! (I’m at a loss!)
Now it’s the clothespin’s (pinza) fault!
15. ¡Se me ha ido la perola! (I’m at a loss!)
Perola is another word for saucepan.
16. ¡Se me ha ido la castaña! (I’m losing it!/I’m going crazy!/I’m flying off the deep end!)
This one shows a bit more insanity and/or anger, sometimes. Castaña is a chestnut, and can also be an informal word for a drinking binge in Spain, which, incidentally, brings us to our next set of phrases.
Boozing isn’t quite as celebrated among Spanish youth as their American or British counterparts—but almost. Here are the key words for this in Spain.
17. Botellón (Alcohol-infused street party)
A lot of municipalities have been cracking down on these, but you certainly can’t say they’ve disappeared from Spanish culture. Young people often don’t have the money to drink in bars and so they tend to congregate in certain known or pre-arranged plazas with cans or liter bottles of beer. Kind of like drunken, very social flash mobs.
18. Estar pedo (To be completely drunk)
A pedo is literally a fart. Isn’t that sweet? Here’s a refresher on the conjugations and uses of that tricky verb estar, if you need it.
19. Estar ciego (To be blind drunk)
Ciego means blind, so the expression is very similar to ours in English.
If you’re headed to any of these regions, knowing even just one or two imminently local words will do wonders for how people treat you there.
20. Adeu (Goodbye)
Even those who don’t speak Catalan (the language of Barcelona and surrounding areas) always use a couple of Catalan words in their Spanish in the Catalonia region of Spain. The absolute most common is adeu, which, since it sounds like adiós, you may have guessed means goodbye.
21. Deu n’hi do
One of my favorite Catalan expressions is deu n’hi do, which is impossible to translate except to say that it’s an extremely Catalan expression of surprise and amazement.
22. Galicia: The Pickup Line Jokes
A favorite pastime in Galicia is recounting stupid/ridiculous pickup lines. Do not actually use them to pick up girls/guys! They function more like jokes, which, as I mentioned in the introduction, are oh-so-important for showing cultural awareness.
In a fit of silliness, I’ve previously cataloged all of them, but one of my favorites is this: Vostede é mais fermosa do que un arado con adhesivos (Galician: You’re prettier than a plow with stickers).
Again, please, please don’t catcall a Galician woman like that. On the other hand, over a drink, if you want to impress her with your knowledge of funny Galician sayings…then you might consider it.
23. Besets (Kisses)
Valencia also has its own language (or its own dialect of Catalan, depending on your political predilections). A great word to use when you’re there—and that only exists in this region—is besets (kisses).
Unlike the regions above, you’ll only hear Spanish in Andalusia (well, also lots of German and British English). ¡Oní! is the local exclamation of excitement.
How to Continue to Learn Truly Authentic Informal Spanish
I hope you’ll use this as a starting point, and continue to develop your knowledge of Spanish as it’s actually spoken in Spain.
A great way to do this is, of course, by watching videos—and FluentU is nice enough to provide an entire subtitling, learning and reviewing system for learning directly from authentic source material.
Other sources can be message boards. A popular one in Spain is Meneame, which functions a bit like reddit.
So, get to it! And enjoy feeling like a true blue Spaniard next time you go out for tapas with your new friends!
Mose Hayward is a polyglot and lived in Spain for several years. He blogs about fluency for lazy people, as well as dancing and romantic adventures for travelers at TipsyPilgrim.com
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