Essential Survival Spanish For The Disoriented Gringo

Upon arriving in the banda oriental disoriented, dehydrated by the dry airplane air, and un poquito frustrated by how aurally alien the language is here compared to that used by the help back home… the gringo faces a dilemma. Wat do? Ear training takes time, hours stretched over a week. Composing complex thoughts into speech at the very least requires rehydrating the brain. Here are a handful of helpful phrases for future travelers:

Si: This needs repeated insistently because the locals cannot comprehend that you indeed intend to answer yes to anything, even for the most trivial matters such as wanting empanadas. Be prepared for locals to treat your lunch like a major life decision.

Buen dia: The typical morning greeting.

Buenas: The typical greeting for all the hours not between 6am and noon.

Todo bien?: Because "como estas?" is too formal in a place so tranquilo.

Me gustaria [fill in the blank or point at shit]: This is the polite way to ask for things. A touch of politeness goes a long way.

Disculpe: Repeat this as you push through the homo sapien detritus which tends to gather and occlude walkways at their narrowest points.

Tengo dinero, Quiero pesos: This is the only phrase you need to say at the Cambio when you change your bills over. Outside of the airport, every Cambio tends to offer within a few hundredths of a pesos per dollar and there's a Cambio within a two minute walk of anywhere. Abitab is the one seen most frequently so far.

Eu falo Ingles: This portugues phrase marks you as a foreigner to the locals, without giving away your gringo status. In tourist areas the locals tend to be used to Brasilero/Brasilera tourists who would rather speak English than Spanish.

Yo entiendo mas que yo hablo: Can be paired with "Leo muy bien y escribo un poco bien" to get the point across that you are capable of understanding language even if your verbal composition needs more practice.

Smile a lot, keep repeating these phrases, and surival long enough to get a more useful subset of the language is more likely than not. And suppose you catch someone playing friendly with the most unfriendly intentions1

Para vos, Yo2 no soy tu, Yo soy usted: This is how you put the proverbial screws to the overly helpful yet stupid who pretend to false familiarity. Reserve for situations where you undertand what is going on, and it is unwelcome. Very infrequently needed, but gets the point across. Do not use if you can't tip your wings (archived) should the dork imagine they aren't that dorky. If you'd rather not tip your wings, instead of this phrase offer them a cigarette and should they say anything other than muchas gracias, flash a look of disgusted confusion and walk away.

And to encourage the idle young males to remain idle through whatever stupid ideas they might momentarily entertain, the stink eye carries across cultural boundaries.

And for extra credit, the local girls tend to almost universally break eye contact with strangers downwards. If she breaks eye contact to the side you've got an invitation for conversation.


  1. With gansta roll comes gangsta responsibilities!  

  2. Pronounced ShhOh  

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *