10 Things Not to Say While in Buenos Aires

When we’re in our own country, and speaking in our native language, tactfulness and saying what we mean are things that come naturally to us (…well, most of us). But expat life in Argentina is a whole different kettle of fish!

To help you navigate these treacherous waters, here are 10 things that you shouldn’t say while you’re in Buenos Aires. Some of them are culturally offensive; some are mistranslations that Spanish speakers will find puzzling and/or hilarious, and some just reflect a mindset that will prevent you from having as good a time in Buenos Aires as you otherwise might.


#1: “I don’t eat red meat”

A perfectly cooked bife de chorizo and a glass of Malbec is the best dinner in Buenos Aires. Period. Yes there are fancier dinner options, and yes there are decent restaurants serving international cuisines. But the price-to-eating-enjoyment ratio of Argentine carne is simply impossible to surpass. It’s not surprising that a lot of expats living in Buenos Aires make an effort to eat it as often as possible before they’re forced to return home and eat inferior meat for the rest of their days. The bottom line is that if you’re living in Buenos Aires and you don’t eat red meat, the best advice is this: start.

#2: Tengo mierda

Miedo = fear, but mierda? It’s what dogs leave on the sidewalks all over Buenos Aires. Yes, that’s right. Shit. Now, saying “I have shit” in a tone that makes it clear that you’re afraid might actually get your point across! But not exactly how you meant to, so try to remember the difference.

#3: “Why don’t Argentineans travel more?”

A bit of sensitivity is called for here. Since the end of the dollar-peso peg and the subsequent financial crisis in 2002, the Argentine peso has been worth very little in exchange for the US dollar or the euro. Argentineans are in general a worldly people, and many of them would love to travel to Europe and North America. But saving for an overseas trip costing thousands of dollars when you’re earning the equivalent of US$600 per month is really not feasible. In a similar vein, you should refrain from walking around saying “wow, everything is so cheap here!” because for locals and those earning local wages, it’s not.

#4: Soy Americano

Expect to hear yo también in a snarky tone of voice a lot if you walk around saying this. Saying you’re American when you really mean you’re from the United States amounts to acting like all of South America, Central America and Canada don’t exist, so it’s a bit rude. If you’re from the United States and you want to communicate where you’re from, go with soy norteamericano. Soy de los Estados Unidos is the other way to put it, but it’s a bit of a mouthful for something you’ll have to say every day.

#5: “I hate how it’s so dirty here/the food is so tasteless/there’s no Wal-Mart… (etc.)”

Ah, complaining. It’s what expats do! And really that’s no wonder: it’s normal to miss the things that you know and love back home but can’t get where you’re currently living. Everyone does it – rest assured that right now, thousands of Argentinean expats in countries across the world (including yours) are doing exactly the same thing. Just try to keep it to a minimum, and don’t let locals hear you doing it. Also, if you really don’t like it here, go. Don’t stay and harsh everyone else’s buzz.

#6: Voy a coger un taxi

There are a couple of reasons that you might say this. First, you might say it if you learnt your Castellano in Spain and you mean to say (in English) “I’m going to take a taxi.” It’s a perfectly correct translation of that in Spain. Or, you might know that the meaning of coger is different in Latin America, but actually mean to say “I’m going to f*ck a taxi.” If you fall into the first category you should substitute the verb tomar for coger and say voy a tomar un taxi instead. And if you fall into the second category? Seek professional help.

#7: “I don’t like staying out late”

Bzzzt! Did you miss the fact that restaurants are empty until 9pm and quiet until 10pm? That boliches (nightclubs) don’t get going until 2am? That nothing is open before 10am on a weekday? If there’s one thing that Porteños share to a man (and a woman), it’s a love of being out when it’s late. If you don’t join in on the act you’ll surely miss a lot of good times. If you can’t get by on 5-6hrs of sleep per day do what the locals do and take a short nap before you go out at night.

#8: Me gusta Juan/María

In relation to things and activities, me gusta means “I like,” or more accurately “he/she/it is pleasing to me.” Me gusta carne, for example, is perfect for expressing your affection for red meat. When it comes to people though, things are a little different. Me gusta Juan goes beyond mere liking and instead means something like “I fancy Juan.” So unless you really like Juan (or María) you should instead use Juan/María me cae bien. This literally translates as “Juan/María falls well to me,” but the meaning is much closer to what we mean when we casually say “Juan’s a good guy” or “María’s a cool chick.”

#9: Anything about las Islas Malvinas (the Falkland Islands)

People tend to get touchy about wars their country lost. Really, that shouldn’t come as a big surprise! To add insult to injury in the case of the Falklands, the Argentine government still impotently claims the Falklands as sovereign territory to this day, and it really is a lot closer to Argentina than it is to the United Kingdom. There are plenty of other things to talk about, so just avoid the whole topic.

#10: Estoy embarazado/a

This may be the single most famous Spanglish error in the world and no list of “what not to say” for native English speakers living in Spanish-speaking countries would be complete without it. It means, of course, “I’m pregnant” and not “I’m embarrassed.” But that what does one say when one is merely embarrassed as opposed to ‘with child?’ That would be me da vergüenza for “I’m embarrassed,” and ¡Qué vergüenza! for “how embarrassing!”


Do you know of any other things that you shouldn’t say? Please feel free to let us know and leave a comment below!!

Learn More Spanish with Bueno, Entonces!!


49 Responses to “10 Things Not to Say While in Buenos Aires”

  1. Tangobob says:

    Very enjoyable post.
    I would just like to commenton The Falklands, I’m English by the way “mentioned the war once I think I got away with it” The Argentines seem to bring this up more often than us, and while it is true that they still clain soveraignty, they tend to blame their own junta for the war, along with Margret Thatcher. Young boys sent south poorly equiped and trained. A war concieved to prop up two failing governments either side of the world.
    So you see we have no argument with the argentine people, except that perhaps while their government failed, ours cerried on. So who really won?

  2. Peter says:

    “Norteamericano” is probably the easiest thing to call oneself if from US or Canada, and I usually do so myself. But I also enjoying pointing out that US people can always be legally called “Americans” because there is no other country in the world that has “America” in its official name, as does the United States of America. And, as most of us know, we US people are called Americans all over the world — not Unitedstatesers,nor North Americans (except here), nor nada. When people anywhere in the world want to immigrate or travel to the US, they say they want to go to America. The song in the musical West Side Story is called “America,” not “Unites States.” And on and on. I don’t mind trying to be politically correct on most things, but I still feel a little silly when someone says I should not call myself an American. Mexicans are called Mexicans because their country is the United States of Mexico. Why can’t Ameicans be called Americans?

    Thanks for reading and I certainly don’t want to start a war or this, but I do think my two-cents’ worth is vaguely important.

    Cheers,

    Peter

  3. Tim Gringo in BA says:

    Hi Peter,

    I agree with you and I always enjoy arguing with my Porteño friends about this. We don’t have an easy way to say what we are. “American” is the easiest. We can’t say I am “Unitedstatesian.” That just doesn’t work.

  4. Anquises says:

    El diccionario de la Real Academia Española acepta el uso de la voz “americano/a)” con el significado de “estadounidense”. Por lo tanto es correcto usar ese término del español como gentilicio de los nativos de los Estados Unidos.
    Es simplemente una cuestión de usos lingüísticos. Algo parecido ocurre con la palabra “porteño”, que significa “habitante de una ciudad portuaria”. Sería sorprendente que cuando un habitante de Buenos Airtes dice “soy porteño”, un nativo de Nueva York le responda “Yo también soy porteño”.

  5. Allison says:

    How about: “Viva Boca” around a bunch of River fans or vice versa?!

  6. Matt says:

    Yeah, but how many Argentinos (or anyone else from the Americas, for that matter) refer to themselves as Americano? None! They refer to themselves by the country they live in, not the continent.

  7. uno says:

    Here an American is called ‘norteamericano’ since colonials days therefore we hate specially when an Argentine said Americano, he sound as a ’tilingo’…’estadounidense’ don’t sound good also because is inaccurate and pc forced.

  8. Andi says:

    This post is hilarious, love it! I made a couple of those mistakes on my 1st trip to BA 6 years ago. Thank goodness I’m a bit more fluent in Porteno now. ;-)

  9. Julie says:

    Try “Yankee”, making fun of yourself shows them that you don’t take yourself as seriously as most assume.

    If all else fails, talk about Che Guevara or say that Argentine women are the most beautiful in the world. This will help.

  10. Elise says:

    In my country we (mostly) say X is from “U.S.A.” Canada, Mexico, the individual name of Central or South American country, or for the latter two:X is from South America or Mellom (Middle) America

    In South American countries I used to get a bit offended when people referred to me as la gringa and told them, I guess in a snarky voice, NO SOY GRINGA, SOY EUROPEA, DE NORUEGA

  11. Denise says:

    me gusta tu pagina, es muy graciosa..
    seguramente sabiendo como usar las frases ya podes comportarte como un Argentino más :P

  12. Santiago Pablo Busso says:

    Hello I’m Porteño and I agree You should keep saying you are Americans because the name of your country is America (United States of America) as Mexico is United States of Mexico and We call them Mexicans, that’s why I think You should say You are Americans explaining Us why, in this subject We, Poretños, are a little bit ignorants and You can teach Us, with politness We can talk about anything even about Malvinas.
    kind regards.
    Santiago.

  13. m says:

    Any country respectful off law knows that wining a war (in 1833) does not give rights.
    USA annexed half of Mexico, but Mexico signed it.
    The first settlement on the islands was French, so France was the legal owner of the islands. France transferred it to Spain, by ah treaty.
    The queen of England signed the Nookta Convention treaty, recognizing Spain sovereignty. So, under international law, Argentina has 2 perfect titles over the islands: Fist settler, and a signed treaty by Britain. Also, Argentina had a settlement and a governor on the islands when England invaded and expelled Argentines in 1833.
    England invaded Buenos Aires 2 times (the second with a 100 boat float). Failed, and then blocked Buenos Aires. Failed again. In 1825 recognized Argentina independence, including all argentine territories. In 1833 England invaded and occupied the islands.
    So, from a legal viewpoint, this is already settled; Argentina is the sovereign country.

    It’s signed by Britain, wich never apologized, nor tried to repair his offence.

  14. Muy buen post, muy divertido y sumamente útil :)

    Lo tomamos para nuestro blog (con su permiso y citando la fuente, por supuesto!!)

    Pasen a visitarnos

    Saludos
    las chicas de Ñ

    http://spanishlessonsbuenosaires.wordpress.com/2010/08/06/10-things-not-to-say-while-in-buenos-aires/

  15. Argento says:

    #4: Soy Americano
    Sure. It’s unfair, offensive and discriminatory. But is even worst to call non USA people “aliens”. That is de-humanizing, and lead to this reaction:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RGlJjVdzPDY

    #6: Voy a coger un taxi
    But if you really do want to do it… Argentina is liberal.

    #9: Anything about las Islas Malvinas (the Falkland Islands)
    Argentina does not claim the islands by closeness. The French ceded the islands to Spain, which assigned them to Buenos Aires. Britain signed a treaty; the Nookta Convention recognizing the Spanish sovereignty of the islands, and after independency, Argentina had a population and governor in the islands (which Britain expelled after invading them). This occurred after 2 British invasions of Buenos Aires, and a failed naval blockade.

    Also, Britain seized more Argentine marine territory after the war than before, for no reason (but the oil).

  16. Glaucio Ribeiro says:

    #Santiago
    The America in the name is referred to the continent as the colonials didnt choose an exact name to refer to the union of the states. So America is not the name of the country and all this matter exists just because of this stupid reason. Anyone that study the history of the country and the continent knows that. Its also ridiculous to say that there are 2 or 3 “Americas”. America is one continent, no matter what English speakers says.

  17. Me sirvió mucho leer este artículo y las opiniones de los demás. Gracias por el artículo

  18. federico says:

    fuck you british come here talking of malvinas you are going to get your ass kicked thats why you should shut up and avoid the topic.

  19. ana says:

    I believe that all may be said with kindness, most of americans I know ussually critices different aspects of our life style, but in unpolite way.I personally feel hurt by some arrogance they show.

  20. Fleder says:

    Elise, in Argentina we use the word “gringo” by referring to blonde people. Or, at least, people with white skin. It’s similar to the Mexican word “güero”

    I, as an Argentinian, have been called “gringo” by people who knew me. I just have white skin and (dark) brown hair :)

  21. ana says:

    I agree 1005 WITH ANA’S COMMENT. I WORK WITH ESTADOUNIDENSES, AMERICANOS, NORTEAMERICANOS,as you prefer… AND NO ALL BUT MOSt OF THEM are quite arrogant.

    I believe that all may be said with kindness, most of americans I know ussually critices different aspects of our life style, but in unpolite way.I personally feel hurt by some arrogance they show.

    Buttom line respect other cultures .

  22. Scott says:

    Great post! My wife is a native Spanish speaker so I am quickly notified of my frequent language gaffes!

    Regarding #10, another option is to say “me da pena” for “I’m embarrassed,” and ¡Qué pena! for “how embarrassing!”
    My understanding is that “vergüenza” is closer to the English word “ashamed.” Very similar, but slight difference.

  23. cristina says:

    I get the american/mexican thing, but the continent is not called mexico and then we’d be pissed with them. When you say you are american, meaning you’re from the sates it feels like you’re talking about the continen, not the country. Something shorter and eaiser than saying you’re northamerican is saying you’re from the states.

  24. cristina says:

    the post was really cool.

  25. Genius. I’m a “gringa” from los estadosunidos. I lived in ARG for several years. Loved every second of it. Thanks for the laugh.

  26. Paul says:

    “Why don’t Argentineans travel more?”
    This is the one that i find most out of place. I have found that most Argentines are very eager to travel and one of the first things people want to tell you about are stories about the time that they traveled to wherever place such and such time. As a way of feeling superior to other people. It seems like they put alot of emphasis on being well traveled. Most of the spanish sematical mistakes are of a different sort and could be put apart as common pitfalls of spanish.Definatly not a good idea to mention tha falkland island. cualquiera lo de red meat. they use the same rare/medium/well done designations as we do in the states and wont care if you prefer it a certain way.

  27. Rochu says:

    “Soy Americano”
    I hate it when they say that. You’re still in America, my friend, it’s a very big continent, you see.

  28. Andy says:

    “Ah, complaining. It’s what expats do!” ???? Have you ever even met a Porteño? Complaining is just between futbol and Rugby as Argentina’s national pastime. In fact, what many foreigners would consider complaining is actually a normal part of Porteño discourse.

    Turn on the TV in the morning. Talk to your Argentine coworkers about sports, politics, weather, money. Try talking on the phone with your Argentine mother-in-law. It’s a daily thing. I’ve been to over 20 countries in my life, lived in 4, and have only seen something comparable as far as complaining goes, in Italy.

    And that’s not to mention if you work in a bar or restaurant…”Change the music”, “give me a discount”, “make my drink stronger”, “these potatoes aren’t cooked right”, “why are you closed? I want service.”

    Foreigners complain too, but far less, especially if they’re tourists, not expats. But I would put #5 in a list called “Things to Talk About with Porteños to make you blend in”.

  29. Sean says:

    Been speaking Spanish for 28 years and for some reason it always comes out totally wrong when I ask for a comb. LOL..whats up with that?

  30. andrea says:

    Btw COGER only means “f*ck” here in Arg. I’ve lived in several other SAmerican countries and coger=take/grab. This is mot particular to Spain as ppl here assume. Colombians, Venezuelans, Dominicans, Mexicans, Peruvians…. Not just Spain. I came here and was so used to the word that it was tough to transition.
    Also the whole “American” issue they have is ridiculous. How come this is the only country that has a problem when we say “I’m American”? It gets frustrating

  31. Chux says:

    Hi Scott! Sorry, my english isn’t very good, but here in Argentina, we don’t use “que pena” allways, because it means “how sad”.
    Pena is something closer to sadness, or pity if you will, it’s something that you would say in cases like:
    - Se murio mi perro (My dog die)
    - Oh, que pena! (Oh, what a pity/shame!)

    But, in case that you would like to say something like “Shame on you!” you don’t say “pena”, you should say “¡qué vergüenza!” or “Deberia darte vergüenza”(You should be ashamed)

    So, your understanding of the word “vergüenza” is right, but it works in both cases, for little embarassing-awkwards moments, or something more serious, real shame.

  32. PaulaM says:

    You know Peter
    When Italian immingrants first came here to Argentina, they would refer to here in Italy as “America” so it’s relative…Of course for you America it’s USA, with all respect at the end of the day here in Argentina you are a “Yankee” not matter where in the US you are from…
    Good Night
    Paula :)

  33. Dan says:

    This is the first time I can see an instructive and funny set of opinions in a public web. All feedbacks are good and I did not find any aggressive comment. This is great! and it is very interesting to know how foreign people see/perceive Argentinians around the world.

  34. James O says:

    I was told in Mexico that papaya should not be said in Argentina. Fruta bombe is the substitute?

  35. Carl says:

    I am English and I don’t want to get political , but I wonder what English government would have to say if another country came 300 km from the coast rigging for oil? Our governments creat our wars (not us) we just have to fight them against our wishes, and lose our families and loved ones in doing so! PersonalyI believe England should have better agreements with Argentina and a business deal partnered with the finding of oil, after all I would say its more Argentina water than Englands, England had never won a war America has always luckily interviened.I love Argentina and as for them not travelling ! well the whole of Latin America looks so beautiful, I wish I had another lifetime and the money to see as much of it as possible and meet more of its lovely people , only the stupid would blame its people for what its governments do .

  36. Micaela says:

    Hi! I’m Argentinian and i’ve to admit that i hate it when US people refers as themselves as “Americans”. They may have the word “America” in their country’s name, but America is still the whole continent.

  37. Ellen says:

    Great post! Perhaps adding ‘or the Dirty War’ to #11 could save some travelers from an awkward argument.

  38. Great article, I’m from BSAS by the way. I liked your comment Tangobob. I think that what happened with the islas Malvinas in the 80′s was an orchested play by the junta.
    About the “I’m American” issue, it depends on to who you say it. I don’t mind you people calling yourselves as Americans, is the way you say it, but there are some morons outhere who “are proud of being Argentinean”. And also we don’t follow the RAE determinations. That’s spanish and European we speak Castellano in Latin America.
    Oh, before I forget. The correct way to say “I like meat” is “Me gusta la carne” we use the article before the noun.

    Nothing else to add here. Hope all Americans enjoy their visit here in BSAS. It’s an amazing city and some of us just love to meet people from that country.

    See ya!

  39. Just an Argentine guy says:

    The word “Gringos”, when used in Argentina, has a different meaning than when it’s used in the other South American countries. In Argentina, it refers to the European immigrants from the 19th and early 20th century. Although now, some people are starting to call Americans “gringos” because they’ve realized that that’s the way the rest of Latin America (especially Mexico) call them. This is thanks to the Latinameican version of MTV shows and other latinoamericanized TV shows. And by the way, Argentines, Uruguayans and Chileans do not feel “latino” at all. The are in South America, but culturally we are different from those countries that consider themselves “latino”. Not that there is anything wrong with it, but “latino” is an American concept of the culture of everyone from a country south of Rio Grande, and that’s just wrong. My 2 centavos.

  40. lelu.16.26@hotmail.com says:

    jajajaj Soy argentina, es muy graciosa esta pagina pero muy verdera!!

  41. Jon Jon says:

    A good pre-eminent strike is to say “soy americano”.

    The people of Buenos Aires are nothing but rude dogs anyway, so you might as well get one in before they do…

  42. sol valle says:

    Well i think u.s citizen are completly confused….. what make more american to u.s.citizen than the rest of the american continent???? People think u.s citizen are the only ameican because in our passport say : united states of america….. but to be honest…. america it is a continent…. not a country… and when we say north american we talk about the whole ameican countries like… mexico, canada, u.s, or the central american countries too…. cos here in the u.s school teachs us that north america starts from alaska to panama…… gringos are totally crazy!!!!!!

  43. Ramiro says:

    Loved your post!!

    I’m from BA and I would like to add something: when english speakers say “año” (year) they tend to pronounce it like “ano”, without making the kind of “nasal” sound we do when pronouncing the ñ.
    Now everyone can make pronunciation mistakes, but this one is particularly serious because “ano” mean literally anus.
    So i’ts quite a shock when an eglish speaker congratulates you on your birthday and says “happy anus!!” instead of “happy years” (happy birthday).

  44. Alfredo says:

    Soy argentino y vegano. No como carnes rojas ni blancas ¿Alguien se ofende acá? ¡Nadie hasta ahora! Just up to you.

  45. Lucia says:

    Todo depende de la persona. Sí es cierto que muchos se ofenden por esas cosas (de hecho yo no tolero que los estadounidenses se llamen a sí mismos “americanos”, por más que sea correcto), pero hay varias cosas que los demás sí toleramos. Yo, por ejemplo, soy vegetariana, y me alegro cada vez que alguien dice que no le gusta la carne, aunque una amiga mía me mira con cara rara cada vez que tocamos el tema; lo mismo con el “no me gusta quedarme hasta tarde” (a mí no me gusta). O también con los de las Islas Malvinas: acá vas a escuchar a personas que dicen que son inglesas, y otros que dicen que son argentinas; pero estoy segura de que mencionar el tema va a traer una laaaarga discusión.
    Con respecto al “voy a coger un taxi”, me morí de risa xD

    Sorry if my english is bad, I gave my best shoot:
    Everything depends on the person. It is true that many people get ofended for those things (in fact, I can’t stand that americans called themselves “americans”, even if it’s right), but there are a lot of things that the rest do tolerate. For example, I’m vegetarian, and I’m glad every time that somebody say that don’t like meat, althoug a friend of mine looks at me weird when we touch the subject; the same with the “I don’t like staying out late” (I don’t). Or also with the Islas Malvinas: you’ll find people that say that they’re english, and others that are argentinians; but I’m sure that say something about them is going to bring a loooong conversation.
    About “Voy a coger un taxi” (here: I’m going to f*ck a taxi), I couldn’t stop laughing xD

  46. Patrick says:

    My wife is from Argentina, so I’m down here a lot. I’m also a vegan. Please understand that Argentineans are not offended by the presence of vegetarians or vegans. They usually think it’s odd, and may have more difficulty accommodating your dietary preferences, but they’re not offended. If you run into someone who is, well, you’ve just encountered an idiot. There are plenty of those in the USA too. More, in fact. Many more.

  47. Carolina says:

    Yes, Mexico is actually called Estados Unidos de Mexico, and their are called Mexicanos, for the MEXICAS, reason number one they can be called mexicans, and reason number two, there is no continent with that name, AMERICA IS A CONTINENT guys!

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