Local Lingo: How to Talk Like a Poblano
You’ve just arrived in Puebla, and you feel good. You’ve read your guidebook, so you know at least a little bit about Mexican culture, and you spent weeks brushing up on your Spanish. Confidently, you head out onto the streets of the historic center, ready to converse with the locals. As two women pass by you, you overhear one say: “Compré la bolsa por sólo cien varos.” The other replies, “Guau, que ganga! Se ve bien fresa.”
Hmm. Someone bought a purse that looks like strawberries? Weird. But you weren’t going to talk to them anyway, so you shrug it off. Next, a young man walking behind you answers a call on his cell phone. “¿Bueno? Hola, mi Jorge! ¿Que onda? Güey, estoy chambeando porque necesito lana. … Sí, nos vemos al rato en la pachanga. Y después vamos al antro! … Orale … Vas a comprar unas chelas? … Va que va. Nos vemos.”
Say what? You didn’t understand a word he said. You didn’t think your Spanish was that bad.
Finally, you arrive at a restaurant that looks charming and offers a lovely view of the zócalo. You decide to grab a bite and sit down at a small table in the corner. At least here you can practice Spanish, right? A waitress appears, hands you a menu in English, and says, “Good afternoon. What would you like?” Humbled, you order a meal in your native tongue.
Sound familiar? Many travelers to Puebla have had an experience like this. Although it’s nearly impossible to prevent people from trying to speak English with you, learning some Mexican slang can really go a long way toward helping you converse with locals. Let’s take a look at a few of the most common, family-friendly slang words.
A Brief Guide to Mexican Slang
antro No, we aren’t talking about anthropology here. An antro is a nightclub. You’ll find an abundance of them in the Los Sapos and Avenida Juarez areas of downtown Puebla and near the UDLA campus in Cholula.
chamba and chambear Chamba is another word for job and chambear is its verb. The verb is mostly used as in the example above, estar chambeando.
chelas No fiesta is complete without beer, or chelas.
chido Used to describe something that’s “cool” or desirable, as in ¡Que chido!
dos que tres Slang for más o menos or “more or less.”
fresa vs. naco Entire books could be written about these two gems, but essentially a naco is an uncultured, uneducated, or low-class person (similar to a “hick” in English), and a fresa is a snob or someone who fancies themself as a person of high class or status. Neither is typically a compliment, so use with caution.
ganga This isn’t a word you’ll hear a million times a day, but it’s good to know, especially if you plan to go shopping. If something is a ganga it is a bargain.
guácala Guácala is synonymous with gross or disgusting.
güey Use this word when you want to say “dude” or “dudette.” You’ll hear it frequently whenever young people are talking.
lana and varos Literally “wool” and “bars of gold,” these words simply mean “money.” You may also hear plata, or “silver,” which is popular elsewhere in Latin America. Of course, all three can be used for their other meanings, too. The context should make it pretty clear whether the speaker is talking about textiles, precious metals, or moolah.
me cayó el veinte People use this phrase when they want to say, “I suddenly realized.”
¿Mande? This loosely translates to “Could you ‘send’ that to me again?” or “What did you say?”
mero This term, often repeated for emphasis, is often used to mean “the best” or “the exact” one. If a product says mero mero on its label, then it is calling itself the best. Note that if someone is giving you directions and says, “Está en meritito en la esquina,” then they are saying the place is precisely on the corner.
neta This word generally means “the real deal,” but it can be used as a question for confirmation. In conversation, a person might ask, “¿Neta?” which is kind of like asking, “Really?” Then if the person responds with “¡Neta!” they are basically saying, “Yes, what I just said is true.” If someone tells you that you’re la neta del planeta is means “you’re the best.”
órale If people are surprised about what they hear, in a good way, they say órale. It can also be used as an affirmation, particularly when you are about to say goodbye on the phone. The reaction for when something is bad is hijole.
pachanga This word describes a huge, often drunken, party — a rager.
padre Like chido, padre (literally “father”) is used to describe something that’s “cool,” as in desirable. Avoid expressions that contain the word madre (literally “mother”), most of which are negative and offensive.
¿Qué onda? What’s up?
se me fue el avión A Spanish equivalent of the expression “I lost my train of thought.”