10 Useful Spanish Phrases…in Arequipa

I have been working on a Machu Picchu post for more than a month but I have not gotten it to a presentable state. If it is already four months late then what’s six more at this point, really.

Instead I am tackling something more manageable, fun, and hopefully interesting: some common expressions I have learned here in Arequipa.

My Spanish is okay. It is difficult to assign level of fluency for such a subjective topic but I can express my general mood, general ability, needs, and necessities, and carry on basic conversations. The biggest challenges (no big surprise) are grammar structure and expressing wit/joking around.

I have learned mainly through listening to native speakers. Although I am a firm believer in classroom lessons (I learn best in that environment – forget Rosetta Stone or Duolingo, I have zero self-discipline), you just can’t get more authentic than seeing and listening to how people naturally use their language in everyday situations. This is how I also learned to discern which words and expressions go with various social settings.

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The thing about Spanish is that there is a crapton of local, regional, and national variations. One city might use a certain word for something but the next city over may not.

I did not want to post this title “…in Peru” because hello, I do not know shit about Peru. I only know Arequipa and that too is a stretch. Regardless, here are some common expressions I have learned here and I frequently use (if not frequently then everyday).

If I said something wrong then please do let me know.

1.) “Buenas!”

This is the more casual, informal alternative to hola, buenos días (good morning), and buenas tardes (good afternoon). You can use it to greet taxi drivers, cashiers, salespeople, street vendors, secretaries, etc. There is absolutely nothing wrong if you say the textbook version of the greetings but this helps you sound more natural.

If you are ever in doubt you can use the textbook versions.

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3.) “Qué bueno!”/”Qué chévere!”

Roughly translates to great, how great, how cool/awesome!  The latter is informal. Use it to respond to someone or mutter to yourself when you see something cool.

4.) “CLARO” and its variations

Super useful. As I understand it, I use it as “of course”, “sure”, “obviously”, or in general when you agree with someone.

  • Claaaaaaaaaaaro – of couuuuuuuuuuuurse, riiiiiiight
  • Claro, claro, claro – yeah, yeah, yeah or of course, of course, of course (agreement)
  • Claro que si – of course
  • Claro que no – of course not

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5.) “Ciao!”

I cannot actually remember if I ever heard “adiós” being used here. Most people use “ciao.” Also frequently heard is “ciao ciao” otherwise also written as “chau chau.”

6.) “Cómo?”/”Qué?”

These are “what?” or “I’m sorry?” when you did not understand or hear what another person said. “Cómo” is more polite than “qué,” which is pretty direct. I only use “qué” with my friends and people I know well. I think you can use “perdón?” as well but I have not heard that one.

True story a small kid who looks like Chucky asked me a question at school and I said “cómo?” out of habit like he was a freaking king.

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7.) “Está bien”/”No te preocupes”

Depending on the context, “está bien” can mean “it’s okay/fine” or  “never mind.” The latter can be combined with “no te preocupes” or “no worries” or “don’t worry about it.”

Carlito: Ay lo siento, olvidé el cumpleaños de tu perro. (Ah I’m sorry, I forgot your dog’s birthday.)

Domingo: Está bien, no te preocupes. (It’s ok, don’t worry about it.)

8.) “Pucha”

Basically “dang/damn/darn,” a softened, more acceptable form of its less socially acceptable cousin, “puta.” Can be used to express disgust, disappointment, anger, surprise, frustration, or even relief.

This is an example of jerga or slang.

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9.) “Qué tal?”

This translates to “what’s up?” I almost never hear “que pasa?” here.

10.) Know the difference between “tú” and “usted”

As many of you already know Spanish has two forms of singular “you”: tú is informal and usted is formal. Even memorizing some common phrases is helpful. It is difficult to explain when I use the usted forms – my rule of thumb is when I am speaking to someone reasonably or obviously older. Here the first one is in tú form followed by usted:

Cómo te llamas? vs. Cómo se llama? (What’s your name?)

Cómo estás? vs. Cómo está? (How are you?)

Adónde vas? vs. Adónde va? (Where are you going?)

You can see that the verbs here in “tú” form ends in “s.” It is a good general rule to remember but of course there are always exceptions.

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Honorable mentions:

  • Creo que si/creo que no – I think so/I don’t think so
  • Tener que… – (subject) has/have to – “tengo que ir” (I have to go), “tenemos que limpiar” (we have to clean)
  • Acá/allá – colloquial forms of “aquí” (here) and “allí” (there)
  • Más o menos – more or less, so so

This took longer than I had anticipated. Now go an try it on your friends! And Latin American-looking people on the streets because surely that is obviously appropriate and would not backfire.

It always helps if you have an inherent interest in a certain language. For me, that is French and unfortunately not Spanish. It has been an interesting process, though.

On a sadder note, my iPhone was stolen earlier this month, which means I have not been able to take pictures. I have gotten over not checking emails every 0.000000000000002 seconds but not having a camera has been killing my soul and I did not even have a soul to begin with! If anyone sent me an iPhone 5 I would not stop you.

Final note: the accent marks in Spanish are basically little Hitlers