10 Phrases of Cuban Slang You Should Know Before Visiting Cuba
Spanish,  Cuba,  Latin America,  Travel

Popular Spanish Slang Words in Cuba for Travellers to Know

Spanish in Cuba has a lot of unique local expressions and Cuban slang. When you visit Cuba for the first time, it can be hard to make any sense of the Spanish spoken.

The Cubans speak fast, cut a lot of the endings of the ends, and use a lot of local slang in their Spanish. Familiarizing yourself with basic Spanish words and local slang words can help you better understand and appreciate Cuban culture.

I have traveled to Cuba twice. The first time in 2014, when I stayed for almost five months studying Spanish at the University of Havana.

I ended up in so many awkward situations because I didn’t understand Cuban slang. As I started to understand more and more of the local slang, my experience on the island improved.

In this post, I want to share some popular Cuban slang words in Spanish with you.

So, if you are planning a trip to Cuba and don’t want to feel like a completely lost foreigner you have come to the right place!

While it is very useful to learn some Cuban slang, you should also be extremely careful before you start using any of the local slang yourself. You can easily misuse a local Cuban slang word and end up saying something offensive without wanting to.

Before traveling to a Spanish-speaking country, I always recommend that you brush up a bit on your Spanish language skills. For example, by taking private language classes with a native Spanish-speaking teacher on italki!

Disclosure: Some of the links below are affiliate links. This means that at no additional cost to you, Becci Abroad will earn a commission if you purchase through one of those links. This helps to pay the bills and the maintenance of the site.

A Language Guide to Cuban Slang

Cuban Slang You Should Know before Visiting Cuba

If you want to improve your Spanish, learn Spanish on italki!


The Basics of Cuban Spanish and Cuban Slang

Spanish is the official language in Cuba. But Cubans have their own distinct Spanish and their own particular Spanish slang words and expressions.

Before we get into the specific words and expressions of Cuban slang, I want to highlight some basics for Cuban Spanish and Cuban slang.

What is Slang?

Slang in the general understanding can be seen as the most informal part of a language.

Slang is the words and expressions that you would use around your close friends. And properly the words that you would not use at a birthday party with your grandmother. Slang starts as a spoken rather than written form but might over time turn into written language too.

Most languages – if not all languages in the world – have slang or informal colloquial expressions.

For me, slang is interesting because it shows how the language develops and evolves. Spanish is especially fascinating because there are so many people in the world who speak Spanish. At the same time, there also exist so many distinct versions of Spanish.

Slang in Cuba

Slang in Cuba are particular words and expressions that are particular to Cuba and the Cuban culture. Some of these words are also used in other Spanish-speaking countries. While other slang words are exclusively used in Cuba.

In Cuban slang, the same word or expression can quickly change meaning based on the situation and the vocal intonation. Also, many Cuban slang words and expressions might be accepted by locals but can easily be misunderstood and misused by foreigners.

As foreigners, especially as non-Spanish speakers we can easily miss the nuances and end up sounding stupid and offensive without wanting to or realizing it.

In my opinion, learning some popular slang words can be a useful way to enhance your travel experience to Cuba. In general, when traveling to Latin American countries, it is always a good idea to learn some basic Spanish.

How is Cuban Spanish Different?

Cubans speak Spanish in a more closed way than other Spanish-speaking countries. This particularity of the Spanish in Cuba comes from the fact that during the 19th and 20th centuries, Cuba received a lot of immigration from the Canary Islands and the Southern Spanish region, Andalusia. 

The pronunciation of Spanish in Cuba is still closer to the pronunciations of Spanish in the Canary Islands and Andalusia than to the dialects of other Latin American countries. 

The Cubans cut a lot of the endings on their words, especially when their words end with a D. For example, cansado becomes cansao.

Fun fact is that Spaniards from Andalusia do the same thing! 

The Cubans also almost don’t pronounce the difference between the letter B and V. This can be super confusing 

So, the Cuban way of speaking might differ a lot from what you learned in school or your Spanish classes. Some of the Cuban terms and expressions might be completely unfamiliar to travelers who have not been to Cuba before. 

The Cuban Art of Catcalling: Piropo

Catcalling or piropo, as it is called in Cuban Spanish, is very common in Cuba. Far more common than in any other country I have visited!

Piropo is Cuban men’s way of calling out to women in a flirtatious way. Mostly, it is done by using some sort of joke, compliment, or even an invitation for a date. 

I never got used to all the catcalling in Cuba. Usefully, I got more annoyed than flattered by the constant stream of shouts and comments. 

It can be extremely overwhelming to witness catcalling in Cuba. Especially, if you are not used to a culture where it is normal to shout at women on the street.

At the University of Havana, where I studied Spanish during my first stay in Havana, a (female) teacher told us that many young Cuban women take it badly if they walk on the streets and nobody catcalls them. I don’t know if that’s true or not but I found this very interesting.

Being a Scandinavian, I didn’t enjoy all the catcalling in Cuba. Usually, I started to agree back at the men who shouted at me. Not the best strategy either! 

15 Cuban Slang Words for Travelers

Here are 15 of the most popular slang words in Cuban-Spanish that I have learned during my visits to Cuba, and so hopefully can help you on your trip to Cuba!

¿Qué Bolá? / ¿Qué Vola?

¿Qué Bolá? is an extremely popular and common greeting in Cuba. This phrase of Cuban slang is best translated to English as “What’s up?” or “How is it going?”.

The slang phrase ¿Qué bolá? is an informal greeting in Cuba, and you will mostly hear it used among friends.

Often, Cubans will add the word hermano or “brother” to ¿Qué bolá?. It is a way of making it softer or more friendly: ¿Qué bola, hermano?

You can see this Cuban phrase spelled both as ¿Qué bolá? and ¿Qué vola?

Since the Cubans hardly pronounce the difference between V and B when they speak Spanish, many Cubans struggle with identifying when to use one or the other letter.

There is a lot of uncertainty around where the Cuban slang phrase ¿Qué bolá? comes from.

Several times I have heard the explanation that ¿Qué bolá? is a term from baseball. At baseball matches when the ball flies through the air, apparently the crowd should shout: que vola (“how it flies” from the Spanish verb volar). Over time, this is said to have been transferred into everyday Cuban Spanish.

Asere / Acere

Asere is a Cuban slang term for amigo (or friend). It is a very informal way of speaking to people in Cuba.

Asere / Acere can be spelled both with a s or with a c. There is very little difference between how the s and the c are pronounced in Spanish. The two letters easily get mixed up when people write. 

When you are traveling to some of the top places to visit in Cuba, asere is a very fun and nice Cuban slang term to know. I’m sure you will find a lot of Cubans who think it is funny and cute that you know this Cuban slang word.

Oye, asere, ¿qué hacemos hoy?


Coño is a Spanish slang word used in Cuba and other Spanish-speaking countries, especially around the Caribbean and Venezuela.

The word coño is used as an exclamation word or a way to express excitement or surprise about something.

This slang word is properly best understood as an alternative to the way of expressing surprise and excitement in English with a “wow” or a “no way”.

The exact meaning of coño in Spanish is hard to determine. The literal translation is pussy, but the meanings in the Spanish language vary far beyond this simple translation. 

So, don’t be surprised if you hear your Cuban friends use coño a lot and in a lot of different ways and a lot of different situations. However, Cubans will only use coño in informal settings.


In Cuban slang, the word yuma refers to a foreigner person. Especially, a foreigner from the U.S. or Western Europe.

For Cubans, yuma is another and more common way of saying yankee or gringo about white people, mostly foreigners.

Yuma doesn’t directly mean anything bad. But Cubans will be very surprised if you reveal that you understand this word.

Most Cubans are not used to foreigners knowing this Cuban slang word. They might use yuma to talk about you believing that you don’t understand them. If they were saying something unpleasant about you, they might be a little ashamed when they find out that you understood them.

If you are just half as white as me, you will most likely hear the word yuma used about you. To be a little less yuma in Cuba, you can also learn some more about Cuban music.


The Spanish word Gringo is not just a popular Spanish slang word in Cuba but in all Latin America. 

Gringo is used to refer to white people, foreigners, and especially, Americans.

Gringo is one of the most common slang words in Latin American Spanish. So be sure you take note of this one if you are planning to travel to Latin America.


Pinga is one of the most controversial Cuban slang words on my list. And oh my, I have got so many comments from Cuban and Cuban Americans for putting this word on this list!

In Cuban slang, pinga is a multifunctional word that can be used to express both excitement and positive feelings and negative feelings. It all depends on how it is conjugated and the situation the word is used.

The literal translation of pinga means the male genital organ.

In Cuban slang, however, the word can be conjugated in a wide variety of ways:

  • Está de Pinga – It is horrible
  • Empinagado – Amazing
  • Qué Pinga te pasa a tí – What the hell is up with you

These are just some examples of the many uses of pinga as a slang word in Cuba.

A word of warning: Pinga is a very informal word. You have to be very careful with using it as you will quickly be taken as rude and disrespectful.

I would highly recommend against using pinga during your travels to Cuba. It is a word that is good to know when traveling in Cuba because you are likely to hear it during your travels. However, it is normally only used among friends.  Never use it among people you don’t know as it will be taken as VERY rude.

If you have a bit more Spanish background knowledge, this video explains almost all the different usages I have heard in Cuba:


The Cuban expression máquina is used about the old 50s cars that drive around on the island.  

The literal translation of máquina to English is machine. However, if you say máquina in Cuba, most Cubans will understand that you are referring to the old cars.

In Havana, many of the old cars drive around as local taxis and the taxis are also referred to as máquinas.

These local taxis in Havana drive specific routes around the city. You can stop them on a street corner and ask if they are going in the direction you need to go.

You jump on together with other passengers like a shared taxi or a shared minibus. When you get to your destination, you ask the driver to drop you off. You pay a small price for the ride.


In Cuba, guagua is the local slang term for bus. Guaguas is by far one of my favorite slang words in Cuban Spanish! 

The Cuban term guagua stems from the American bus factory and brand name: English Wa & Wa Co. Inc (Washington, Walton, and Company Incorporated). The bus factory was the first to export buses to Cuba from the U.S.

The story goes that the Cubans started to refer to the buses by a shortened version of the company’s name, Wa & Wa.

Over time, and with a good amount of Cuban mispronunciation, the common Cuban term used for a bus became guagua (almost Wa-Wa).


In Cuban slang, candela can be used both as a positive and a negative word in Cuba. The more direct translation of candela is to be on fire, a fire, or a flame.

When candela is used about other people can either mean that someone is super-hot or a troublemaker. It all depends on the situation.

For example, ella está candela. In this sentence, candela can mean that she is very hot or that she is a troublemaker. It all depends on the situation and the way the sentence is said.

Candela can also be used as an exclamation.

For example, ¡Qué candela!. The meaning of this sentence can also be positive or negative. It depends on the situation and how the intonation is, it can either be: how great or how awful.


Many other Spanish speakers and foreigners get confused when they come to Cuba and ask for papaya at the local market, and the Cubans look weird at them.

The fruit that in most other countries is known as papaya is called fruta bomba in Cuba. The literal translation of fruta bomba is 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!


In Cuban Spanish, the common Spanish word agua doesn’t only mean water. 

In Cuban slang, agua is also used as an exclamation for something incredibly good: ¡Agua!

Coger Botella

In Cuba, coger botella is the most common expression for hitchhiking.

The literal translation of coger botellas is “to take bottles”. In everyday life in Cuba, it means going to the stoplights to stop cars and asking for a free ride.

In Havana, this type of hitchhiking is not so common anymore. The local taxis in Havana use the same method to pick up people. 

Ser un Mango

The Cuban slang phrase ser un mango is used to express when a person is very good-looking

For example, la chica es una mango would be translated to “the girl is hot”.

The literal English translation for ser un mango is “to be a mango”. So, that doesn’t make a lot of sense!


In Cuban slang, pinchar means work or to work.

Cuban people use the word pinchar both as a subjective and as a verb:

  • No hay pincha (there is no work, subjective)
  • Estoy pinchando (I’m working, verb).

Guajiro / guajira

The Cuban expression Guajiro is used about country people or people living in rural areas in Cuba.

Guajiro is comparable to the term Hillbilly in the U.S. 

The word Guajiro is said to come from the word used for the native people from the Guajira region between Colombia and Venezuela. During the Spanish Empire, the guajiros from Guajira were sent as slaves to work in the rural areas of Cuba.

Over time, the word guajiro became a common way in Cuba to refer to anybody coming from or living in a rural area.

The term guajiro is a little bit negative and derogatory in modern-day Cuban Spanish, especially Cubans living in the cities.

As with many Spanish words, guajiro can be conjugated in both a masculine form (guajiro) and a feminine form (guajira) depending on the person you are talking about.

How to Improve Your Spanish Before Your Trip to Cuba?

Before a trip to Cuba, it is a good idea to improve your Spanish language skills. No matter whether you are a beginner at Spanish or a more experienced Spanish participant. 

The Cuban language and the way Cubans speak Spanish can be very different from any Spanish you have ever learned. 

In addition, English proficiency among Cubans is very limited. So, brushing off your Spanish can be a very good investment before your trip.

I believe the best way to improve your Spanish is with a native speaker. Either find a language exchange bubby you can practice with or use online platforms such as italki with native Spanish-speaking teachers. 

If you want to dig further into Cuban Spanish and Cuban culture, the University of Havana offers Spanish courses for foreigners (currently the courses are on hold). It’s a perfect way to learn even more about Cuba while exploring the country from within.

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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    • Rebecca

      Hi Anete! Thank you so much for your comment! I’m so happy to hear that you enjoyed the post – then my mission is completed! 😉

      • Rebecca

        Hi Joel,
        Thank you for dropping by! Haha, I could imagine that there are a lot of white people trying to speak like Cubans.

        • Reynaldo

          “Mamey,” a fruit, (pronounce all Spanish vowels loud and clear) is also associated with a very very very good looking young male or female. ” Es un mamey.”

          • Hugo

            Mamey can also mean something is great (the mamey is a tasty fruit for many). Or it can also be used sarcastically to express disappointment (depends on intonation).

    • Rebecca

      Hi Amy, thanks for dropping by! Yes, Cuba is super interesting buut it is still an issue to visit if you are depending on working online! Better safe it for a time where you have time to be offline 😉

    • Rebecca

      Thanks for dropping by Greta! So happy to hear that you enjoyed the read 😉 Yeah, you can be more than sure to hear these phrases at least a couple of times while in Cuba!

  • Sylvia

    Brilliant Rebecca! Even though i also speak Spanish, of course i wouldn’t jnow slang words used in Spanish speaking countries! Very grateful for this!

    • Rebecca

      Thanks for dropping by, Sylvia! Exactly, that’s what’s so amazing about Spanish; it changes according to the country. And Cuba surely is no exception 😉

  • Wiki

    Hello ,

    I saw your tweet about animals and thought I will check your website. I like it!

    I love pets. I have two beautiful thai cats called Tammy(female) and Yommo(male). Yommo is 1 year older than Tommy. He acts like a bigger brother for her. 🙂
    I have even created an Instagram account for them ( https://www.instagram.com/tayo_home/ ) and probably soon they will have more followers than me (kinda funny).

    I wanted to subscribe to your newsletter, but I couldn’t find it. Do you have it?

    Keep up the good work on your blog.


    • Rebecca

      Hi Wiki,
      Thanks for dropping by! I’m so happy to hear that you enjoyed your visit! Oh! They are so sweet your cats! And what a good idea to create an Instagram for them!

      Thank you for your kind request. Unfortunately, I have still not created a newsletter. Sorry for that! Thus, you can follow me on twitter (https://twitter.com/becciabroad) where I post regularly with things from the blog.

      Kind regards

  • Katie

    Ah this takes me back to my trip…. I have one you missed – vamo echando asere! Or let’s go buddy! The locals loved it when we said this as we were leaving ?

  • Isabelle

    You nailed it! Haha, I wish I had read this 3 years ago before I went to Cuba for the first time and was like”huh?!!” Pinga is my favorite one! LOL. Especially when something bad happens.

    • Rebecca

      Thanks for dropping by Isabelle! So happy to hear that you enjoyed the post! Haha, yeah, pinga is by far also my favorite – and the one you will hear the most! Eso está de pinga! Jajaja. Besitos

    • Luna

      Ma’am, asere does not mean friend…. at all. It’s more like a street talk for “brother”/”bro”. It’s kind of rude to say that phrase to anyone but your close friends, even then its a bit thug-y and quite vulgar. It’s not a bad thing to say but do watch out who you say that to.

      • Rebecca

        Hi Luna,
        Thank you for your comment! I completely agree with you that it shouldn’t be used to other than your closest Cuban friends. That’s why I put a reminder at the beginning of the post for everyone not-Cubano to watch out with the use of the slang in the post. This post is more meant as informative for foreigners travelling to Cuba and wanting to know and understand a bit more about the Spanish used in Cuba.

  • Adam

    You forgot tirame un cabo wich literally means throw me an anchor but its really like saying help me out in english.

    • Rebecca

      Hi Adam,
      Thanks for dropping by! Oh yes! “Tirame un cabo” a good one too! Thank you for adding that one! 🙂 Hope you enjoyed the read!

  • Jaja

    I’m Cuban and Its funny the way you explained everything..some things are not correct though like #2…yuma…means the USA…example “ellos son de la yuma”. They are from USA so “que bola la yuma esta?” that you wrote for #3 means nothing…dont ever say that to anyone they will laugh at you…and wont know what you’re traying to mean.. #9 is Mango when refering to someone hot you say “esa jeba(girl) es un mango”…#4 is well you know..i read a few of the comments saying that this word was your favorite but believe me only the lowest form of expression…it sounds extremely dirty in Cuban and if used infront of the locals they will view you as trashy…..it sounds funny in English but extremely low class in Spanish….

    • Rebecca

      Hi! Thanks for dropping by! I’m honored to have a Cuban reading along!
      Regarding #2 “yuma” it is a term which I discussed a lot with my Cuban friends. Some say that it refers to the US (as you mention) while others say it refers to “abroad” or “people from abroad” in more general terms. And Cubans I met along the way did call me “yuma” despite knowing that I wasn’t from the US. Could it be that there exists a difference within Cuba of how to understand/use “yuma”
      #3 – cool, thanks for clarifying! I will change the phrase.
      #9 – your point is exactly my point in the text 😉
      #4 – one clarification; it is my “favorite” in the way that “me llama la atención” how much Cubans use it! I am aware that is super low and not nice to say; and especially, if it comes from a foreigner (if you check out the beginning of the post, I also warn about use some of these words as a foreigner in Cuba. However, it is useful for us who aren’t Cubans understand a bit better the slang to know what people are talking about – that’s the point of the post). Thus, admit that Cubans use that word/phrasing a LOOOOOOT, right?

      • LolBeckyNo

        Rebecca, here is another Cuban agreeing with the Cuban correcting you about how US(nosotros) Cubans talk. Lmao and you go and correct them like you know more from your tourist trip. Clase de come pinguera que tu tienes mamatranca <3.

        • Rebecca

          Hi there! Thank you for sharing your thoughts and your Cuban expression!

          As mentioned previously, the point of this post is not to correct anybody. Rather it is to inform non-Cubans about slang that they might hear when traveling to Cuba. So, it’s simply a way to share my curiosity over the variety in the Spanish language – not to correct!

          • Rebecca

            Hi Adrienne,
            Thank you so much for dropping by my blog! I’m so happy to hear that you enjoyed the read and learned something new 🙂

  • Joseph Lopez

    Hello, I am Cuban and I would like to inform you that Fruta Bomba is only used in La Habana and surrounding areas the rest of the island uses papaya as the fruit

    • Rebecca

      Hi Joseph,
      Oh, thank you so much for clarifying that! I was not aware that Fruta Bomba is only in La Habana. Thanks!

  • OMAR

    The Spanish “b” (be larga) and “v” (be corta) are pronounced exactly alike. … At the beginning of a word and after “m” or “n”, the hard Spanish “b/v” closely resembles the “b” in the word “boy,” except that the lips are held tense. THAT HAS BEEN STANDARD SPANISH FOR SEVERAL CENTURIES, AND IT WAS CARRIED FROM SPAIN TO THE AMERICAS.

    • Rebecca

      Yes, you are completely right, Omar! I was pointing out that in the spelling of “que vola”/”que bola” might change, exactly because there is no different in the pronunciation of “be corta” and “b larga” in Spanish.

      Thank you so much for your comment!

  • OMAR

    The comments about white people are ignorant. Over two thirds of Cuba’s population is white. The rest are either, mixed, black, or East Asian. There are members of all these groups that use this type of slang and/or vulgarities. Just like there are those who don’t, no matter their genetic characteristics.

    • Rebecca

      Hi Omar,
      Thank you for dropping by my blog and taking the time to leave some comments 🙂

      Yes, you are right, Cuba is a very mixed population and slang can come across as very ignorant and not every Cuban will use this kind of speaking.

      The point of this post was to help foreigners travelling to Cuba to better understand some of the slang used on the island. And as I wrote at the beginning of the post, as foreigners in Cuba we should be very careful if we start to use the slang/vulgarities as the Cuban use them, since it might not come across nicely.

  • Claire

    I picked up on cuban slang whilst there ..my cuban fiends taught me to say “que bola”..it made them laugh?…the papya one and pjnga waz discreetly put to me…
    Loved it…thanks

    • Rebecca

      Thanks for dropping by, Claire! I’m happy to hear that you enjoyed the post!
      Yes, Cubans really enjoy making fun and fool around by learning foreigners Cuban slang. I’m happy to hear that you had a good time in Cuba! 🙂

  • Miguel

    Hello, I just wanted to comment on ‘Mango’. It’s used as a term for a guy, usually spoken from a woman’s point of view. Men usually use ‘Tremenda Jeva’, or ‘Tremendo Bon Bon’ to refer to a good looking woman. Also, YUMA is not Yankee, it’s the land of the Yankees, the United States. Also, watch the slang…. many of them are vulgar and you could offend someone who is more formal.

    • Rebecca

      Thank you so much for dropping by, Miguel, and taking the time to comment and share your knowledge! I completely agree with you that as a foreigner you should really watch out how and when you use the Cuban slang (which is also why I put a note about that in the beginning of the post).

      Once again thank you so much for sharing!

  • Tarkus

    In my humble opinion you shouldn’t say “mi favorita es la pinga” without you explaining that you mean the word “pinga” the other way may get u in an awkward situation if u know what I mean (wink), by the way “tu eres un mango mami”.

    • Rebecca

      Thank you so much for dropping by, Tarkus, and taking the time to comment on my post. OMG! You are so very right! Haha, thank you so much for drawing my attention to this little “issue” (even though, your comment made me laugh big time).

  • Ramón

    Papaya is also known as fruta bomba in Puerto Rico, papaya in Mexico means vagina, I would say that ” Que bola” means ” What a ball ” Good effort but, not an accurate picture.

    • Rebecca

      Hi Ramón,
      Thank you for dropping by and taking your time to leave a comment!

      The post was meant as a list of slang words I heard in Cuba which I hadn’t heard elsewhere – not meaning at all that they could not be used elsewhere. Once again, thank you for your contribution.

  • mavelita

    I feel really embarrassed and it is shameful that when foreigners visit my land (I’m a very proud Cuban, born and raised) that the contact they have if with people speaking or talking in those terms. We have a saying “dime con quien andas y te dire quien eres” [tell me who you hang out with and I will tell who you are]. These slangs are used for the lowest of the society, unfortunately, looks like just the lowest is left…

    • Rebecca

      Hi Mavelita,
      Thank you so much for dropping by and taking the time to leave your comment!
      The post was by no means meant to embarrass you! 🙂 I find the differences in Spanish fascinating, and wanted to share them with other (non-Spanish speakers) that might have it the same way. My experience was that most of the slang I mention here was widely used between most Cubans – and not just lower classes in the society. But I might be wrong. I’m not Cuban after all 🙂

  • Nilia

    I left Cuba in 1960 and I’ve had to learn the slang they use today. TEMBA is used by men describing a middle-aged woman. The younger generations use words that are very vulgar and insulting to us the older generations. It depends if you grew up on the island and what strata of society you come from. We would NEVER use those words with strangers, though it’s much more common in today’s society. It helps knowing what they’re saying. I worked with recent arrivals in Hialieah, Fl. and I needed someone to translate!

    • Rebecca

      Thank you for dropping by, Nilia! Yes, it depends a lot on the generations in Cuba and what you are taught growing up. However, I found most of these words very common when I visited Cuba. At least in the day-to-day conversations between Cubans. I highly appreciate your input and I wish you a great day!

    • Andy

      I agree the language has changed/devolved a bit over time. But “temba or veterana” are usually used in crude or derogatory fashion amongst men. Like the American version of a “veteran woman”. And is used not so publicly. And most Cuban women these days see it as almost a compliment. O understand that’s not correct but it’s sadly what’s current. You yourself say you don’t use it with strangers, which is the right thing. But you DO use it and know it. Usually the older Cuban women that’ve been here for a long time see it as an insult, whereas the middle(ish) aged women that are referred to as such see it as a crude(ish) compliment. TEMBA is actually the almost EXACT Cuban version of a “MILF”. While obviously not eloquent it’s looked at more favorably than say Jinetera vieja! (Old wh0r3) That’d be my comparison of temba (which BTW only “viejos verde” aka older men trying to act young or cool use) I was born there in the 70’s and came in the mid 80’s. So I’m in an in-between age group that sees both sides of that coin as being here is the majority of my life gives me one perspective and seeing those coming now gives me another. Sadly, I (like MOST) prefer to deal with the older generations as I was raised as such. But even more sadly, much of the people coming now or over the last 15 years or so are a VASTLY different breed!

  • Israel Sands

    Just saying: when I was working as a court interpreter and I was assigned a client who was a professor of Spanish at a University in Havana I was nervous but once he started speaking I was relieved to find I was fully at ease as his voice, because he didn’t use much slang!

    • Rebecca

      Thank you for dropping by and reading my blog, Israel! I think in most countries and in most languages, people will never use slang in courtroom situations. Slang is mostly something that you will experience in more informal settings. But I’m happy to hear that you had no problem understanding your Cuban client 🙂

  • JunYa

    Very very Kool…I hang around a lot of cubanos so I knew all these terms…but was searching for some other slangs I asked about and the Cubans don’t know so they may be haitian Puerto Rican Dominican…I don’t know but none the less very well put together and very smoothly understandable

    • Rebecca

      Hi JunYa! Thank you so much for your kind words! I’m happy to hear that you enjoyed the read even though you knew all of the words already 🙂 Happy New Year!

  • Andy

    Thanks for the laughs, the article IS entertaining! (And ALMOST accurate!) As a Cuban born and raised American who’s lived in the US the majority of my life I can attest that we have a very… “unique” speech pathology that’s as colorful as it is expressive. A few tweaks and it’d be more accurate though! Eg: Yuma. It IS referring to a bastardized version of a Yankee but used for almost exclusively Americans or even Cubans coming to visit from America. Other foreigners are usually referred to as a slang version of where they’re from. (Europeo, Africano, Canadense etc)
    Que vola is VERY common as a greeting but it’s BOLA with a B, not vola with a V. Candela is a word for fire. It does not refer to being on fire or hot but is used that way depending on context. (I know, we’re overly complicated but the nuances are what set us apart from other Spanish dialects!) Coger botellas directly translates to “catching/getting bottles” it does NOT refer to getting a ride or hitchhiking… EXACTLY. That’s something we’ll say to a foreigner if asked and is used as such but in a VERY different manner. It usually refers to offering a “particular” barter offer for a ride. (Think in a carnal nature, so DON’T use it) THREE important points to note: 1) inflection, context and familiarity can COMPLETELY change the nature or meaning of a conversation! You can have 3 different groups side by side, using the same EXACT words and all 3 will be having totally DIFFERENT conversations! 2) You will hear what strikes you (as a foreigner) many seemingly discriminatory references to color or race. Eg: Ramon el Negro, Yanaisi la mulatta, Manny el chino etc… They are commonly (and non racially motivated indicators) they’re used as descriptors and are not meant in a derogatory manner. But refrain as a tourist unless invited to and or with friends. (Cubans can be some of the most colorfully, animated and expressive people on the planet but inflection, tone, familiarity and many other factors come into play in ways that you’d never expect)
    3) I’ve saved the best/most important for last… The word COÑO or it’s even more pervasive slang, ÑO! This is the most widely used and complicated word in the Cuban language. It can be an expression of surprise, anger, astonishment, dread, hilarity, seriousness and almost ANY other possible linguistic endeavor! There are actually entire comedy albums, books and is even a common trope in business as it is in personal usage. It’s the most “catch all” word and phrase in the language! (Think “whoa” and “what” to the ⁵ power and add inflection changes to get a vague grasp) Look into it if you wish to be thoroughly confused and entertained! In summary, we’re a vibrant and expressive culture with as many variations in our speech pathology as we have in genetic origins all mixed together on one tiny island! We may not be many but we ARE unique! And due to our lack of restraint those few if us there are, will always stand out! (If nothing else because of our over usage of physical gesturing/animation paired with an inherent lack of volume control! The phrase “turn it up to 10” doesn’t apply to us because we’re naturally at a 15 anyway! 🤷‍♂️) Enjoy your visit and remember… So long as it’s loud and animated, it’s usually all good! It’s when we’re hushed and stiff that you should be concerned! 😉

    • Rebecca

      Hi Andy! Thank you for your wonderful and detailed comment – and apologies for taking should a long time to get back to you! I’m truly happy to hear that you enjoyed the post even though I might not have caught aaaaall the details in the Cuban accent!

      Once again thank you! All the best, Rebecca

  • Avelino Perez

    The word Papaya does not mean vagina in all of Cuba. In the eastern part, Oriente, they do use the word papaya for the fruit. My mother-in-law (from Havana) always got furious when my father-in-law (from Guantanamo) called the fruit papaya.

    • Rebecca

      Thank you so much for dropping by, Avelino! Yes, it is right! I had heard about that it wasn’t everywhere on Cuba that they used papaya in the same way, but never experienced it myself. Thank you for sharing!!

  • José Jiménez

    Your note of caution on the use of the word PINGA is important, even if understated. This is an extremely vulgar word that only recently found its way into common parlance on the island. Cubans that migrate to other countries have a rude awakening when they use this word in mixed company with Cubans that left before 1990. If I ever used that word in a lady’s presence, somebody would have knocked my teeth out – my father, my mother, or the Cuban lady I disrespected. If my daughter´s boyfriends had used that term in my presence, I would have put an end to the relationship immediately. I assure you that anyone that uses that term will not be easily accepted in polite Cuban society outside of Cuba. Unfortunately, one of the consequences of the communist regime was the destruction of civilty and respect in cuban culture. Hopefully there are still areas in Cuba that have kept standards for decorum.

    • Rebecca

      Hi José! Thank you for dropping by my blog! And thank you so much for your clarification and explanation of the difference between Cubans abroad and on the island! My post is based on my own experience visiting Cuba where I found the use of the word extremely common. But of course, I would normally meet Cubans who had stayed on the island. Thank you again for your clarification – it was a very interesting read!

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