Spanish as Spoken in Spain

Madrid is 4,975 miles from Bogotá, 5,600 miles from Mexico City, 6,200 miles from Buenos Aires. The lingo may have originated in España, but regional differences have evolved among the 400+ million speakers worldwide.

I have encountered some in Spain, post this New Year’s Day to tell the tale. Expect little of interest if your Castellano ends at the bottom of the Taco Bell menu, aside from my discussion of hombre at post end.


Hola, buenas will serve morning, noon and night here.

“That doesn’t mean anything,” you object. “‘Hello, good.’ What kind of a greeting is that?!”

A common one. You’re free to say Buenos días, buenas tardes, buenas noches, and many do, but I live here, regularly receive and offer Hola, buenas.

Hasta luego seems to be the standard goodbye. I infrequently hear adios.


Vale = okay. That’s all. No more, no less. Pronounced vah-lay.

I will know I have settled in when I catch myself saying vale without forethought. So far, I haven’t. Spaniards say vale as often and effortlessly as Americans say ‘okay.’


Vosotros = informal you, plural. Non-existent in the Americas. Maestros had warned darkly of vosotros-izing in Spain, but I let myself imagine that uses would be rare, saved for special occasions, like eggnog punch recipes.

Wrong! Spaniards ‘os’ each other, tack -áis and -éis onto verb roots with abandon. Get ready.


Like señor, but more formal and (perhaps) flattering. Expect to be caballero‘d half to death if shopping for anything in a gift box while male and gray-haired at Corte Inglés.

I don’t remember hearing caballero in Mexico. I liked the mouth feel of the word, but also thought it sounded a bit fruity, akin to calling a cabbie ‘your kind sir’ while offering a tip. I have used it gingerly when addressing other males, and the occasional blinks received in response suggest that I still don’t quite get conventions of use.


(1) Calm down. (2) What you’ll say to magnanimously accept the apology of the red-faced stranger who just stepped on your spats on the metro.


Said in lieu of Hello when answering a phone, or How can I help you? when addressing customers at a store counter.


They both mean “you,” but it’s “tú” between pals, “usted” with the big boss. I used to think that English offered no equivalent, believe now that it does. Consider:

I’ve forgotten exactly when it happened and can’t find anything online to confirm that it happened at all, but my aging memory cells insist: at some point in my years in the states, sales people stopped calling me “Mr. Adams” and started calling me “Tim.” I hadn’t changed; they had. For reasons unknown, they likely had decided that the casual salutation paid off: informality might alienate a few customers, but would win bankable trust from many more. (e.g.: “The poor dumb schmuck will think I’m his pal!”)

Tú vs usted may not be all that different here. A fortyish Asturian suppressed irritation while tutear‘d by a bank teller — “You don’t know me,” thought he — but noted that said tellers were also tutearing everyone else. Madrileños have assured me that a gray hair like me can “tú” with impunity, but a necktied hotelier frowned when so addressed. I switched quickly to usted; the frown disappeared. A judgment call.

Usted does not necessarily imply respect, may signify only formality, reserve, distance. Consider the consistent use of ‘usted’ in an unfriendly 2015 debate between Pedro Sánchez and Mariano Rajoy.


That’s right.  You’ve got it.   Spoken as an Anglophile would pronounce the distress signal SOS, but with a pause and a speed bump after the first ‘S.’  (e.g., ESS-oh-ess.)

And now, the most interesting, at least to me:


Hombre = man. That’s what I learned in Spanish 1A, and I remember no speech, text, or lesson in the Americas suggesting that I regard hombre as anything more.

Not in Spain.  Both sexes can expect to be addressed as hombre, sometimes almost meaninglessly — à la the interjectional use of Let’s get real! — but sometimes (and pause with me, please, as I choose my words with care) to request a candid facing-of-facts while implying listener sympathy.

A few invented Spanglish examples:

“Of course you can go at 9:00 on the dot, but hombre, you know they won’t be ready by then.”

“Hombre, you know he won’t be faithful. Why kid yourself?”

“He promised that during the campaign, and you believed him?! Hombre …”

* * * * *

Revised: July 3, 2017, January 15, 2018, March 8, 2018

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