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!
#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: 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.
#6: “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.
#7: 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.”
#8: 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!”
Live your own experience.