All you need to know about Iberian America

Expressions in Spanish that Sound Weird to a Gringo

Some odd years ago, I remember being in a Mexican restaurant in my small town in Iowa.

This was a restaurant that I have been to all my life and known the owners.

Anyway, way back when I was new to learning Spanish, the owner named Maria told me that the saying for “iced tea” in Spanish was “te frio.”

When I asked for it, I said “te helado.”

In the moment, I thought she was wrong in saying that nobody ever using “te helado.”

And, to this day, I’m more confident that she was wrong and simply wanted to teach me how people say it in whatever part of Mexico she is from.

Though, thinking about it now…

I’d agree that “te frio” sounds better than “te helado.”

Not because it sounds more natural…

But because, from my understanding, “te helado” would literally be translated into something like “icecream tea.”

Because I’ve always known “helado” itself as being icecream.

Which, suffice to say, I don’t want icecream in my tea!

Still, there have been phrases or words in the Spanish language that are used just like that…

In which I don’t mind using them but find them to be strange when literally translated into English.

Of course, you can find weird sayings in any language….

Especially when it is translated literally into another language for non-native speakers of the first language to understand.

Just some weeks ago…

Someone made a meme about how the different stations in Mexico City would be translated literally if they were to do so for tourists.

And people had a few good jokes about that also.

Anyway, here are some other examples of weird phrases I’ve seen in the Spanish language that just sound weird or funny when translated literally into English.


Despite living in Mexico for 4 years, this was one that I didn’t notice people were saying until maybe 2 years ago.

And so I remember walking around the streets of Pachuca in Mexico…

Having just left an ATM machine…

And there were two guys in front of me some odd feet away.

One of the guys said to him right there “Camera!” and walked away.

Now, to me, that was weird.

Why would someone just shout out “Camera!” to another person like that?

Anyway, maybe a few hours later, I got back to my apartment and asked someone about it.

If my memory is right, I think it was my last girlfriend I asked?

And she explained how, in Mexico, people say “Camera!” in that context when they are basically saying “OK!”

Anyway, if I remember right, I think that is what the intended meaning of “Camera!” is.

To me anyhow, I always found that use of the word strange.

After all, camera is normally camera in English.

Same word.

A year or so later…

And I’m at a house party and there was this Venezuelan chick there with others sitting down at the table.

In the moment, this came to mind and I asked “why do Mexicans think Camera could be OK?”

And the other Mexicans in the group started theorizing as to how “Camera!” came about to mean “OK!”

And one suggested that maybe it means OK since a camera is used to take photos…

In which you can look at those photos with your eyes…

And so when you say “Camera!”

It’s like saying “I see (with eyes)! OK!”

Now, to be fair, he had no idea is that is why they use camera to mean OK.

I threw back that if we were going to use the words of random objects to mean things…

Why stop with camera for OK?

Why not yell out “ESTUFA! ESTUFA!” when we want to tell someone that something is hot?

The pizza delivery guy arrives to your apartment and he warns you “ESTUFA ESTUFA!” when handing you the hot pizza.

To maybe a chick moaning “ohhhhh Q ESTUFA!” when you’re smashing her pussy walls in bed.

And the exact opposite?

“NIEVE NIEVE!” when you want to tell someone that something is cold…

Maybe the chick above decides to take a shower after sex…

And she can yell NIEVE when the shower is too cold?

Just some suggestions…

Anyway, some of the folks found my suggestions funny so there we go.

Que Onda

Next up, we have “que onda.”

Which just means “what’s up” in Mexican Spanish.

Now with “que onda,” we can break this word down literally also.

Que means what in English.

Onda means wave in English.

So “what wave?”

To be fair, maybe this makes a little bit of sense…

After all, waves tend to go high up in the air.

“high up.”

So kinda like “what’s up?”

Still weird though.

Que Padre

This is a phrase in Mexican Spanish that just means “how cool.”

However, the word “padre” means “dad.”

So “WHAT DAD?!?!” when they want to say in Mexico “HOW COOL!”

Seems a bit weird.

Does “que madre” mean “how lame?”

It might if we take the next phrase literally….

Me Vale Madres

Literally translated to mean something like “it means mother to me.”

However, it is typically used to say in Mexico “I don’t give a fuck!”

So we can see with these last two examples how Mexicans think about their parents…

The dads are cool!

The mothers are shit we don’t care about!

Fuck the mothers!

I use to play with these words sometimes a year or so ago…

Say shit to my last girlfriend like “me vale madres Y PADRES”



That’s right!

It all means “aunts, uncles, grandparents and even FATHERS to me!”

Some people found that funny…


This is such a weird one also.

Not something that is just to Mexico though I think.

Where you might see a stop sign in some part of Latin America with the word “alto” written on it.

In English, that’d be “high.”

Like “high in the air.”

However, given it is on a stop sign, it then means “stop!”

Which I always found weird.

Why the use of the word “HIGH!” to mean “STOP YOUR CAR HERE!”

Doesn’t make sense to me.

Do Latinos also yell BAJO to me RUN or GO FASTER!”

I first learned about the use of this word to mean “stop” in some college Spanish class when some professor explained it to us.

Always seemed weird to me since.


Literally, this word means “to take.”

However, not always!

Depending on part of the world you are in.

In some parts of the Spanish speaking world, it can be used to mean “to take a taxi.”

However, in other parts of the world, it can mean “to fuck.”

Who wants to fuck a taxi?


Just saw an HB8 taxi the other day, you know…..

Media Naranja

In English, this translates to “half orange.”

However, in Spanish, it is typically used to mean your significant other or some partner.

To be fair, I don’t see this phrase to be entirely weird.

It is a little bit.

I wouldn’t ever call my girlfriend or wife a “half orange.”

Seems a bit distasteful.


She isn’t good enough to be a whole orange?

So she’s a half orange like some orange you finish and go “this tastes like shit” and throw it away half done…

Doesn’t sound very romantic…

To be fair, I get that I’m supposed to be “the other half.”

But if we are splitting foods here…

Why not pick a food that actually tastes good?

Like “Mi medio tocino” or “mi media pizza” or “mi medio vodka” or “mi medio te negro” or “mi media hamburguesa con tocino y queso extra” or “mi media alita de BBQ.”

I’m just saying – if we are going to use a phrase to signify that she is “the other half,” then let’s pick a damn good food to work with here!

Mamar Gallo

So having covered some Mexican phrases above like que padre and so on…

Let’s finish this with some Colombian ones since Colombia is another country I know a tiny bit.

Now, it’s been a tiny bit since I’ve been in Colombia, so my memory of certain phrases might be off.

Correct me if I’m wrong in any of these last few phrases.

But first we have “mamar gallo.”

Which means “to suck a rooster” in English.

You’d think this means “to suck my dick?” in Spanish?

“Oye linda, quieres mamar mi gallo? Tengo mucha gasolina para ti."

Daddy Yankee -- Gasolina

But I always remembered it as being “procrastinating.”

That’s supposedly what it means.

Which is weird – a hot chick sucking my gallo isn’t procrastinating..

It’s giving me a fresh start to the day!

But supposedly it means procrastinating.

Dar Papaya

Next, we have “dar papaya.”

Also from Colombia.

And it means “to give papaya.”

Don’t give anyone your papaya!

In Spanish, I always remembered this phrase as meaning “to ask for it.”

Like you are doing dumb shit where someone can take advantage of you easily…

And you were basically “asking for it” when it comes to whatever the fuck they did to you to fuck you over.

I could be wrong here about what it means technically but that’s how I remembered it.

Anyway, “dar papaya” isn’t too weird.

I’d change the “papaya” to “dinero” or “casa” perhaps to signify something of value that you don’t want given away.

I’m not particularly concerned if someone takes my papaya…

But that’s also because I don’t like papaya.

So there we go.

Mi Llave

Finally, we have this Colombian phrase “mi llave.”

Means “my key” in English.

Though, if I remember right, it’s supposed to mean “my close friend” or some shit like that.

If it was ever used to mean your partner, I could see it.

Like “key to my heart.”

And maybe some people use it that way but I don’t remember.

But if it could mean “your close friend.”

That’s a little bit weird to me but arguably the least weird one on this list.

I get it but I wouldn’t normally call a close friend “my key.”

Still, it’s not as weird as some of the other phrases here.

Final Thoughts

I’m sure I could’ve thought of more if I tried.

Particularly if I thought about slang I heard in countries like Argentina, Bolivia, Guatemala, etc.

Still, I wanted to keep this list short.

Got any weird phrases or sayings you’ve heard before in Latin America?

Drop them below.

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Best regards,


1 comment

Patrick - June 10, 2021 Reply

great article. i find the colombian phrase ¡Qué Gonorrea! to be weird.

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