Are you planning a visit to Cuba, and don’t you want to feel like a completely lost foreigner? In Cuban Spanish, there is a lot of slang and unique expressions. So, even if you understand some basic Spanish, it can be very hard to make sense of Cuban Spanish.
These 10 expressions of Cuban slang might be useful for you to understand a bit more about Cuban Spanish.
However, only take this as guidelines to help you understand. There is a delicate balance between when it is and isn’t appropriate to use most of the Cuban slang.
Sometimes the expressions mentioned here can become a lot stronger when a foreigner uses them than when a Cuban does.
As foreigners, we might not get the right emphasis on the words or use them in an incorrect context. So, just a word of caution to before you jump out and use the Cuban slang yourself.
If you want to dig even further into Cuban Spanish and Cuban culture, the University of Havana offers Spanish courses for foreigners. It’s a perfect way to learn even more about Cuba while exploring the country from within.
Let’s get started!
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A Language Guide to Cuban Slang
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#1 ¿Qué vola? is a bit like “What’s up?” or “how is it going?” in English
An extremely popular and common greeting in Cuba is to say ¿Qué vola? It is though very informal, and mostly used among friends.
When walking the streets of any Cuban city, you can be certain to hear this phrase many times. ¿Qué vola, hermano?
Nobody is completely sure where it comes from. Thus, several times I heard the explanation that it is a baseball term that somehow got transferred into the colloquial Cuban language.
The explanation is that at baseball matches when the ball is flying through the air, the crowd should apparently shout: que voolaa (“how it flies” from the Spanish verb volar).
As most Hispanics don’t have a pronounceable difference between v and b, you might as well see it spelled like qué bola.
#2 Yuma is a foreigner
If you are just half as white as me, you will most likely hear the phrase yuma used about you. For Cubans, yuma is another and more common way of saying yankee – or white foreigner.
It doesn’t directly mean anything bad. However, most Cubans are not used to foreigners knowing this slang.
So, they might be saying unpleasant things about you using yuma to refer to you.
If you come about revealing to them that you actually did understand that they were talking about you, they will most likely be very surprised – and possibly a bit ashamed as well.
To be a little less yuma in Cuba, you can also learn some more about Cuban music.
#3 Asere/Acere is friend
Asere is a Cuban way of saying amigo – or friend. It can be spelled both with s or with c.
Oye, asere, ¿qué hacemos hoy?
Are you looking for inspiration on what to do while in Cuba? Check out these great tips from my blogging-asere on top places to visit in Cuba.
#4 Pinga is… Well, a multifunctional word in Cuban Spanish (keep on reading)
Well, well this is a word with mutual usages and meanings. Literally translated it refers to the male genital organ.
However, conjugated in a wide variety of ways and placed into all sorts of different contexts, it can mean anything from “it is horrible” (está de Pinga), “amazing” (empinagado), “what the hell is up with you” (qué Pinga te pasa a tí)… And, well, the list just continues.
If you have a bit more Spanish background knowledge, this video explains almost all the different usages I have heard of while in Cuba:
However, a word of warning: This is a very informal way of expressing oneself and is mainly used among friends. You should therefore not use it among people that you don’t know as it will be taken as rude.
Generally, for a Scandinavian like me, Cubans tend to shout and swear a lot more when they are making fun of each other than I’m used to. But when they are serious and talking quietly there are usually big problems.
#5 Candela is to be on fire
Candela basically means candle but it is mostly used as “fire”, “on fire” or “flame”. When used about persons it can either mean that the person is super-hot or a troublemaker (ella está candela).
You can also hear it in the exclamations: ¡Qué candela! which depending on the context can be either a positive or negative meaning of “how great” or “how awful”.
#6 Papaya versus fruta bomba
The fruit that in most other countries is known as papaya, is in Cuba called fruta bomba (the bomb fruit).
Why is that? Well, because in Cuba papaya means… vagina… Now you know, so watch out what you are asking for at the market!
#7 Agua is not water – at least not only
True, true, in plain Spanish agua means water. However, in Cuba it is also used as a type of exclamation for something incredible good. ¡Agua!
#8 Coger botellas is the Cuban term for hitchhiking
The closest you get to a Cuban term for hitchhiking is coger botellas. It means going to the stoplights to stop cars and asking for a free ride.
In Havana, it is not so common anymore due to the many competing taxis whose method of picking people up is basically the same.
Want to experience Havana like a local? Check out this guide authentic of Havana!
#9 Ser un mango is to be a mango… No, okay?
To be a mango (ser un mango) is in Cuba used to express that a person is very good-looking or hot: la chica es una mango e.g. the girl is hot.
#10 Pincha is to work
Pincha means work, and can be used both as a subjective: no hay pincha (e.g. there is no work) and as verb: estoy pinchando (I’m working).
So, ¿Qué vola, asere? (do you remember what that means? 🙂 ) Did you learn some new words of Cuban slang for your Cuba trip? Or have you maybe already been to Cuba? Is there any Cuban slang you I missed out on? Please share your thoughts and knowledge below!
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