This week’s episode of BA Cast is a short, and a very useful one at that. This episode will teach you all of the standard Spanish words to unlearn when you visit Argentina, as well as the words that you should know if you go to other Spanish-speaking countries. One example of this is the word “carro” which is used in Spain to say car. However, in Argentina it is more common to hear “auto” or even “coche”. Take a few minutes to listen and learn.
It was bound to happen sooner or later, and was maybe secretly one of my biggest fears about returning home. After reaching such a high level of Spanish fluency, and nearly four weeks at home in the United States, I can see that I’m starting to lose some of my second language ability. I haven’t totally lost the edge, but going so long without consistent practice has caused me to start making some mistakes and to blank on some obscure vocabulary I wound up learning over time.
It’s hard to notice the setbacks immediately, but after talking with a few friends back in Buenos Aires, they joked about how my Spanish has gotten worse. Even just a short time away from a Spanish-speaking environment can affect how well you formulate the words and your response time. In a rush to overcompensate for possibly sounding off, I might speed up how I talk, ultimately causing me to make more errors. It’s nothing monumental for now, but I’m afraid of just how far it can go.
I was aware of this for a long time and after putting so much work and effort into becoming a Spanish speaker, I feel like the ability is my baby, and I don’t want to lose it. I plan on doing as much as I can to stay sharp on Spanish, which means not only staying in touch with my friends in Latin America, but making new Latino friends in Washington. Language is a constant back and forth, and the old saying holds true: if you don’t practice it you lose it. Feeling it slip away is a helpless struggle, and it makes me want to go back to Argentina today.
Good news everyone! Episode 2 of Season 2 of BA Cast is now available to listen to. This episode will begin to feature much more Spanish content, so for those of you out there you want to learn more Spanish, listen up! The episode starts off with the whole BA Cast team–Dan, Fer, Juanma and myself–and continues with a special piece on the 1 year anniversary of the legalization of gay marriage in Argentina.
If you are familiar with the show you’ll also notice that our Web site has finally been revamped, thanks mainly in part to Juanma who did an awesome job on it. Props to Juanma! So listen to the show and let us know what you think.
Today is my last day of work in Buenos Aires, though I’ll of course still be here for a few more days and continue to write and work with the BA Cast. I haven’t talked about my job much throughout my two years here, and aside from mentioning that I’ve worked at a high end travel agency, if you look back through all of the files you’ll never even once find the company’s name mentioned. It’s not that I need secrecy, but I guess I’m just trying to keep with the theme of this whole experience—it’s not the job that has been the central aim of these two years, but rather the life down here. I came to Argentina without a job and was fortunate to find this one within about two weeks.
For a long time I didn’t know what I would do without the job because it became my sense of normality. Every morning I would wake up, come to the office, and work until quittin’ time. I made some of my best friends in Buenos Aires at the office, and while I moved around five times within a year and a half, the job was the only solid point. Like with many positions, it wasn’t all cake, and at one point I was actually offered a job to be editor of the international section of the Buenos Aires Herald. It would be more money and less hours, but in the end I chose to stay put.
It was an extremely difficult decision, because on the one hand I could have been giving my writing career a major leg up, working for one of the most prestigious newspapers in the country, and one of the most prestigious on the continent. Yet I remained with my job at the travel agency because 1. I didn’t want to have to pay my dues again, knowing that I was going home in just a few months, and 2. My goal in Argentina was learn about the culture, learn more Spanish, and make friends. I had accomplished that, and I knew by leaving the friends at work I might not see them so frequently. If I wanted more money, a couple hundred extra pesos a month or whatever it was wouldn’t make me a millionaire. Sure, it would make my life here easier, but I reasoned that I have years ahead to pursue financial trumps. This journey was about something else.
I’ll miss certain things about my job, though in reality the main things I’ll miss will be the people who made it worthwhile. Whenever the weather was nice (essentially anytime outside of winter) I would take a stroll during the lunch break. I’d most likely end up by Plaza San Martín, the only refuge of green space in the Microcentro, which was fortunately just a few blocks away. There I would sit and get some sun or take a quick nap. I read books and had lunch, or studied for the GRE and peopled watched. In the plaza there are men with green vests who go up to tourists and ask for donations. At first the same guy kept coming up to me until one day he started saying hi and would continue walking. Eventually we had a long talk and he asked me how long I was going to be here, and we shook hands as he moved on. Every time after we gave a little nod of understanding, and I’ll miss that.
My first professional office job is behind me now, and it was an international one at that. I was the only foreigner there, surrounded by Spanish every day, sometimes hailed as a nice person and other times on trial for being the only American present. It was an incredible experience and good or bad, I’m better for having gone through it and survived it. Now it’s time to move on, but without forgetting what I’ve learned.
Last week I wrote a post on my 5 least favorite phrases in Spanish, and since I like to give a fair look at both sides, I’m now going to list 5 of my favorite words or phrases in lunfardo, which is the slang used in Buenos Aires. Be aware—the majority of these are dirty words, so excuse me if this offends you. Maybe you shouldn’t read on. Like with the last post, these are in no particular order.
1. “Un boludo importante”. Translation: literally, an important asshole; a real asshole; a fucking idiot.
- I only recently started to hear this more and more but from the first time I noticed it I loved it. It’s like saying that the guy in question in the king of the idiots.
2. “La puta que te/lo parió”. Translation: literally, the bitch that gave birth to you; fuck your mother.
- I’ve discovered that certain phrases and words just sound better in other languages, or really hit what you’re trying to say in ways that English doesn’t, and this is a perfect example. For some reason this is very offensive, which is odd because it’s really just a sentence fragment. We never hear what the big deal is about the bitch that gave birth to you. Maybe she makes good cookies. Who knows? On the other hand, in Spain a similar greeting is given to women when walking by a construction site. “¡Viva la madre que te parió!” though not exactly a compliment, it’s like saying, “Long live the mother who gave birth to you!”
*A similar insult could be “La concha de tu madre” or “La concha tuya.” Translation: your mom’s pussy, or your pussy, respectively. These are fightin’ words, so be careful how you use them.
3. “Estar al pedo/en pedo.” Translation: literally, to be at farts/to be in farts; to be wasting your time, doing nothing/to be drunk.
- These are used every other minute. If you’re sitting around not doing work, waiting in line, or ultimately doing a task which will go unnoticed, you are al pedo. If you’ve had a few too many drinks then you are now en pedo. And there are many other variations of pedo as well.
4. “Quilombo.” Translation: a mess; a fucking mess.
- Where would I be without my little quilombo? Most often used as “¡Qué quilombo!” or “Es un quilombo”. Used to describe any and everything in Buenos Aires. No matter what time of day or season of the year, you can count on there being a quilombo in some part of Buenos Aires. It’s just a fucking mess. Nothing works right, the Subte’s on strike, they’ve set up a road block, you still haven’t gotten paid. Un quilombo.
5. “En la loma del orto.” Translation: literally, in the back of the ass; far away.
- Pretty gross, right? Used to describe when something is very far away and probably a pain in the ass to get to. Where’s the party tonight? In the back of the ass, it’s so far away. You need to take two buses and then walk 10 blocks.
These are just five examples of some of the things I’ve grown to enjoy saying here. Of course, there are so many others like boludo, pelotudo, etc. Don’t judge me if you think I only use bad words, but hey, monkey see monkey do.
I’m perfectly guilty of using these phrases as well, but when on the receiving end I almost always cringe upon hearing them. Here are 5 sentences that I hate hearing in Spanish:
1. “Lo que pasa es…” Translation: The thing is…; What had happened is…
- This takes me back to my days as an English teacher in Ecuador when the students would always have a reason for showing up late or not doing the homework. This is an extremely common thing to hear, always kicking off an excuse or a reason why you’re not going to get a satisfactory result.
2. “Es así/Así es” Translation: That’s how it is; That’s the way it is.
- Anytime a conversation has reached the point where nothing else can be argued on or you one party realizes that their system is flawed but they have no solution, you will hear this uttered. Example (translated):
Person 1: Argentina’s really nice, but there’s a lot of corruption.
Person 2: That’s the way it is.
3. “El tema es…” Translation: The thing is; The problem is.
- Another set up for being denied something. Usually brought in with a point-counterpoint argument. On the one hand, but the other thing is…etc. Your good idea is about to be torn apart.
4. “Puede ser.” Translation: Could be; Maybe; Possibly.
- This is such a non-committal phrase and to me it just shows a lack of interest in really doing something. You ask a friend if they want to go grab dinner later and they say this, almost as if they’re really just holding out for something better and if nothing pops up, you’ll be a last ditch effort. On the other hand, it can be used in a way that’s like saying yes, but without coming right out and saying it, which is just confusing.
5. “Es lo que hay.” Translation: It is what it is.
- You know the phrase in English, and it’s the same in Spanish. Another phrase similar to “That’s the way it is,” covering up for a lousy situation that could or rather, should be fixed, yet isn’t. This is our system and there’s nothing we can do about it. Example (translated):
Person 1: They don’t pay us enough to live comfortably here.
Person 2: It is what it is.
Keep an eye out for these phrases when coming to Latin America and I guarantee you that you’ll hear them soon enough.
Even though the first season of the BA Cast has ended, we’re still releasing material weekly. This week, we feature language lessons from our Spanish Playground section. This week’s show is really helpful for those who want to learn some typical slang used in Buenos Aires, with explanations of the words and how they developed. It’s a free Spanish lesson!