Ask a Mexican

Many of us Mexicans have had close encounters with foreigners and English speakers, and not only is there a language barrier, but also a cultural one. Spanish is a romantic language and English is a Germanic language, so the general gist and sense of the language can be a lot more different than what it seems on paper. Also, some foreigners are taught Spanish in high school and university, but often times it’s a castellan Spanish- from Spain. Which is also, not how we speak in Mexico. 

How do you feel when a gringo speaks Spanish to you? What are some things you’ve noticed as far as the language barrier goes? Do you have any funny or interesting anecdotes?


Daniela Velazquez, 22, waitress.

I once had an American boss, who had a very bad temper. Sometimes, he was nice and would joke around with us, the whole crew was Mexican. He knew some Spanish words like ándale, hurry up; callate, shut up and such. On a good day, he would buy us tequila shots to make us work happier and on bad days he would scream his head off and get pissed if we talked in Spanish among us. We never meant to disrespect him, but honestly, communication was faster in our language. I thought it was the cure when he tried to speak in Spanish sometimes, when he was in a good mood but hated him trying to speak Spanish when he was angry: it seemed as if he wanted to offend us in our language. To this day, he has very unstable staff.


Jaime Higuera, 35, driver.

I always meet tourists who try their Spanish out. On spring break, I usually meet young women who practice their high school Spanish and it’s hilarious because they are taught a very formal Spanish. Last year, a girl tried her very best to “grab” a taxi, she thought the right word was coger, and that means something else here. (It translates more to a four-letter word that rhymes with firetruck) she was a little tipsy, which made it funnier but I felt bad after a while and told her the right way and pointed her to a nice colleague of mine, who drove her to her hotel. He told me that she practiced rolling her r’s all the way to the resort and it was driving him a little crazy! I overall am happy to meet people who try to speak Spanish, except for cursing, because even when I know they have no idea, they can be a little offensive.


Maria Montes, 41, cashier.

I really don’t mind when a foreigner tries to speak Spanish, what gets me is when they try to be funny. It’s like they are almost disrespecting someone with the wrong words, I know they don’t fully get it, but that’s my point, if you don’t know, don’t do it. One time this tourist tried to tell me a pickup line in Spanish to get a discount, he just didn’t get it. And not only that, he became increasingly annoying every time he tried. I was so mad at the end of it, his friends tipped me more than they should have, and even that did not make things better.


Domingo Aguilar, 65, retired.

I think it is really nice when someone tries to assimilate your culture as an effort to make you more comfortable. I spent a while living and working in the U.S., and many of us went to the same bar after a long day of work. Some of the waitresses were mean and told us we had to pay our beers in full as we ordered them, but the bartender was nice. He would try his best to speak to us, who had very bad English and make us feel welcome at the place. Eventually, we all would crowd at the bar to avoid the waitresses and ended up teaching him more Spanish, as he would teach us English. He only had a hard time when talking to elders, as we have a “you” for respect, “usted.” He would use it wrong all the time, and call younger people usted and then miss it when talking to elders, but we all knew he was trying.


Cristina Sanchez, 32, secretary.

Gringos are funny when they speak Spanish, whether they try it or not. It's just that they are so much different from us, they are a little colder I guess, and some of them try talking Spanish with a little spice in their accent. I guess we sound the same when we have broken English, and sometimes we take offense when they don’t understand us. I remember a little girl a couple of summers ago who wanted to buy something at the beach, she knew how to say please, thank you and goodbye in Spanish. She was just the cutest, and her parents were fluent in Spanish, so I felt proud that the whole family was trying.


Marisol Fernandez, 19, guide.

I love it when foreigners try to speak Spanish. I think it’s a sign of respect, we Mexicans are expected to speak English when we travel north, and they make the effort to be the same. I met a man from the UK who was fluent in Spanish and French and sometimes mixed them up a little, but it was totally understandable. He told me they were some of the hardest languages he had learned, but once you learn a romantic language, they are all a little easier.