Recently we’ve been focusing quite a bit on Spanish sayings and expressions. Thus far, we’ve talked about the humorous side of them, as well as discussed others which are used frequently (take a look at our posts ‘5 Funny Spanish Expressions’ and ‘4 Common Spanish Sayings’ for the details). Today we would like to take a slightly different approach on this aspect of language learning, highlighting rather those phrases which are necessary for basic survival here in Madrid. Chances are you’re somewhat familiar with such expressions, but keep in mind that castellano peninsular (European Spanish) may differ slightly from what you’ve studied previously. Here’s our list:
Daily Spanish expressions
What do you mean ‘it’s worth’?
Perhaps in Spanish class you were taught the verb valer, particularly in the context of the expression vale la pena, which translates to ‘it’s worth it’. As soon as you arrive in Spain, however, you’ll quickly notice that everyone constantly says merely vale. But what do they mean? Logical deduction abandons us as we are unable to surmise the meaning of this common one-word phrase. It turns out that in this case, though, the meaning of the verb has nothing to do with what something costs, but rather, simply means ‘Ok’. ¿Vale?
Good night, Sweetheart
Despite culture being quite uniform throughout the Western world — especially in the 21st century — a huge difference between Spain and the US is the schedule. In Madrid, people usually have lunch sometime between 2pm – 4pm and dinner between 9pm – 11pm, perhaps even later on weekends. Thus, la tarde, which your Spanish teacher always told you meant ‘afternoon’, actually refers to the time between lunch and dinner. Therefore, if you want to wish someone a ‘good afternoon’, you’ll have to say buenas tardes, not buenas noches, which is more akin to ‘good night’.
Are they addressing me as usted?
A very common thing to here in Spain is the word venga. If you remember your high school Spanish classes at all, you’ll recall that this is the third person singular or polite second person singular form of the verb venir, which means ‘to come’ (or the third person singular of the present subjunctive). Understanding the verb in this manner may cause some confusion, however. In Spain the expression venga is often used to mean ‘come on’ rather than a formal way to tell someone ‘come here’.
Polite Spanish expressions
‘Please’ is not always the magic word…
In English-speaking countries, as you well know, it is extremely important to be polite. One of the ways we do so is by saying ‘please’. Surprisingly enough, not only is this not so necessary in Spain, but in many cases can have quite the opposite effect. Imagine you’re ordering a beverage out on the town. In an effort to be polite, you may very well say “Una coca-cola, por favor”. In this case, saying please is definitely not necessary, and in fact, may be understood as pushy or aggressive even. When it’s time to order something, just saying what you want without the ‘please’ tag is the way to go.
Can’t everybody just make a line?
In America, you’re more than familiar with the concept of waiting in line when necessary. In this manner, it’s very clear who’s next and if anyone tries to cut — off with their head! Once here in country, you’ll have to cool your jets on this one. For whatever reason, Spaniards don’t see the necessity in forming a clear line and often just stand as a nebulous mass of people. How do you know who’s turn it is then? When you face this situation, you’ll need to ask the group “¿Quién es el último?”, meaning “Who is the last in line?” In this manner, you just need remember who’s in front of you and the rest will take care of itself.
Now you know…
The world is getting smaller, but nonetheless, small linguistic differences even exist among Spanish speaking countries. Hopefully this will give you a heads up, for you’re sure to need these expressions within hours of your arrival in country.