All you need to know about Iberian America

The Disbelief at the Spanish Speaking Gringo

Published September 25, 2021 in Learning Spanish & Portuguese , Mexico - 0 Comments

Most Latinos are chill with you speaking Spanish.

Granted, you have some American Latinos who get insecure about their own Spanish ability and get angry at a white non-Latino speaking Spanish as I wrote about here.

Then you have some Latinos in Latin America who try forcing the conversation into English so that they can practice it or show off to others how “muy educado” they are.

Beyond that, you have another type of Latino in Latin America that responds a certain way to a gringo speaking Spanish.

It’s actually not too common but not rare either.

In which, despite you speaking in Spanish to the motherfucker, they have some weird doubt in their head regarding you being able to speak Spanish.

Where, despite you two having started a full blown conversation, there seems to be something in the back of their head that screams “gringos can’t speak Spanish. Does he really speak Spanish? What?”

It’s like these Youtube videos here of some white dude (usually white) going into a Latino area and speaking Spanish.

And the video is supposed to show “how shocked” the people are.

You find Youtubers doing this with other languages like Mandarin or even indigenous languages.

Which, if we were talking about a gringo speaking decent Quechua. I could more easily understand the shock of the local.

I also would be wondering how the fuck said gringo came around to learning Quechua.

Does he have some indigenous Bolivian wife that he had 5 kids with?

Regardless, I think the “shock” or whatever word you’d use to describe this when it comes to Spanish is a little bit more unreasonable or annoying.

Granted, it’s more reasonable when you realize there’s a certain number of Latinos who rarely interact with gringos anyway and the ones they do meet are tourists with no literal Spanish skills.

In that context, the “surprise” is more understandable (though still annoying and weird to me).

But there’s a few recent examples that come to mind that I’ll share here to drive home the point.

“Get Ready, Amigo. Time to Dish Out Your English.”

After having changed neighborhoods to a part of Mexico City called Lindavista recently, I went to a popular restaurant of the city called Casa de Toño.

I go there often enough once or twice a week because I genuinely believe it’s one of the better restaurants in the city.

Especially when it comes to their flautas de carne!

Which is what I order every time I go there.

Still, I went to this place for probably the third time since I’ve moved to Lindavista now not too long ago.

When I walked inside, the waiter knew that I was simply taking the food home with me.

He asked me what I wanted.

I said “flautas de carne.”

When he heard my accent, he took a quick look at me before turning around to his friend behind him.

He tapped his friend on the shoulder and asked him “you speak English, right?”

The friend turned his head to him, looked at me and nodded.

In more normal circumstances, I’d probably have been very annoyed at this.

But I have been getting better at not letting little shit like this get under my skin as much anymore.

I just know, like with other problems with Mexico, it just comes with the program.

Anyway, the initial waiter turns around back to me and says “ummmm” before then saying the next question slowly.

At Casa de Toño, you’ll get a few questions before the order is done.

Stuff like “do you want salsa with it?” to “do you want cream, cheese, lettuce, etc. on the flautas?” to “do you want all of the above already put on the flautas or in a separate bag?”

The last question only for those taking the food home.

And, during his list of usual questions, the friend behind him was staring at me.

Like he was just WAITING for his chance to jump in with English.

Unfortunately for him, he never had a chance to show the whole world how “MUY EDUCADO” he is with his English skills.

Because I answered the questions in Spanish and the waiter walked away to get the bill for me to pay.

In which then the friend asked me “where are you from?” in Spanish.

I said Russia because that’s my usual response when I don’t want a local turning me into a free English tutor.

Oddly enough though, not one Latino down here in Latin America has ever noticed my lack of a Russian accent.

As a side point, I have genuinely wondered if Latinos in Latin America can distinguish between different accents associated from the US, Canada, England, Australia and broader Europe.

Clearly, I don’t have a Russian accent but it hasn’t been an issue in these scenarios.

To be fair though, I can hardly tell the difference anyway between a British and Australian accent.

So nobody’s perfect.

I just have really wondered how well your average Latino in Latin America can distinguish between accents of those in “the West.”

Or Russia in this case.

Anyway, that’s all really with that scenario.

But then came another one today.

The Cleaning Lady of Lindavista

Today, I walked downstairs to make some hash browns and some black iced tea at around 11 AM.

As I walked downstairs, there was the cleaning lady of the building.

Now, being honest, I don’t like cleaning ladies that much in Latin America.

I think they’re nice people but I genuinely don’t get why Latinos prefer having them.

Like you can’t clean your own shit?

I don’t get it.

Plus, it feels very elitist and I just don’t like having one.

Among other things I could say as I wrote here.

Anyway, the cleaning lady we have here does seem like a nice person.

Nothing against her personally.

I’ve met her maybe two times now since I moved here.

In the first incident, we talked briefly about a week ago as she had never seen me before in the building.


I saw her playing with the dog of the house while getting ready to clean the patio area.

As I opened the fridge in the kitchen next to that, we exchanged a few words to each other.

And she asked me in Spanish “do you speak Spanish?”

To which I said “creo que si!”

In the moment, I was very slightly annoyed by the question but not really.

It was just weird to me.

Like I already met this lady, had a conversation with her last time in Spanish and we are talking again now all before she asks me that question.

To which then she goes on about how “there was a Russian dude who lived here before who didn’t speak Spanish.”

Thereby, associating all foreigners like me with not being able to speak Spanish maybe.

Even though I have literally been exchanging conversation with here before and now before the question.

And, after I answered, we continued the conversation without any difficulty understanding each other.

Final Thoughts

That moment though is what really strikes at the heart of the topic of this article.

But both moments from the one at the restaurant to this are representative of what I am talking about.

In which you could be talking directly in front of someone’s face and they still have some subconscious ignorant belief that “surely you don’t REALLY speak my language, do you, gringo?!?”

It really does seem to me that there’s a specific percentage of the population that has this mental barrier making it difficult to believe that foreigners actually speaking their language.

Because I don’t get it otherwise.

Someone is speaking directly to  you in front of your face and having a full fledged conversation (with an accent to be fair) and yet you still ask “oh shit, you really speak this?”

Imagine if it was the reverse.

Some Latino in the US (American born even) comes up to me and says “Hello Matt, how are you?”

In which I turn to my friend beside me and say “get ready John, this is a Latino we talking to. You know Spanish right?”

And then I turn around to speak with the Latino dude while my white friend is waiting on the sidelines waiting to for some slight chance to throw down his best High School Spanish.

Or if I’ve been having full fledged conversations in English with said Latino and genuinely ask him “oh shit, you really speak English?”

In either context, it’d be seen as weird at the very least.

Annoying to some.

Rude to those who take a tougher stand on it.

But all around weird nonetheless because it’s not something that makes me angry anymore but just confusing.

And, in some contexts, if we are being honest, it makes more sense.

You do have the rare Latino who genuinely has a hard time understanding the gringo accent.

Therefore, they have a hard time understanding you despite how much Spanish you know.

And, like I said, some Latinos have such limited experience with gringos (in which most they met don’t speak Spanish) that it’s understandable where the ignorance comes from.

Still, even in the latter scenario, it’s still weird without any question.

If said Latino does understand you, like both the waiter and the cleaning lady did, then why the question?

It makes no sense to me as we’ve been clearly communicating with each other in a fluid conversation face to face.

It’s not like I have a phone in front of me with Google Translate readily available.

Still, to be fair, most Latinos are not like this in Latin America.

It happens to be that I met two in the same week very recently.

But, if my memory isn’t terrible, I think the last time something similar happened was when I was in Pachuca well over a year ago.

In which there was some corner shop that also sold various meats and cheeses to bring home and the young guy behind the counter was like the cleaning lady.

Despite Spanish being spoken to his face and despite us exchanging words in which we clearly understood each other, the question of “oh shit, you really speak Spanish?” came forward.

I said yes.

And we carried on with the order.

In which, since that moment, we always understood each other whenever I ordered something on a weekly basis.

Outside of that, I don’t remember too many folks who respond in such a manner.

It happens maybe, at most, twice a year or something.

If I had to guess – I truly don’t know.

All around, it’s a rare thing to occur but still one that is weird to wrap my head around because of the typical details already mentioned.

Anyway, it’s not that important but I figured it’s a small aspect to life down here that a few might find interesting.

Leave any comments or questions below in the comment section.

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Thanks for reading.

Best regards,


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