Common Sayings in Different Spanish-Speaking Countries

Instructor: Maria Elena Knolle Cano

Maria Elena has taught Spanish and German to learners of all levels in Europe, Asia and Australia and has a Master's degree in Cultural Studies and Communication.

Learn some intriguing sayings from various Spanish-speaking countries in this lesson. Also get some fascinating insights into some of the different Spanish-speaking cultures through our newly learned phrases.

The Rich Variety of the Spanish Language

Did you know that español ('Spanish') is a truly global language? That's right, Spanish is the third most widely spoken idioma ('language') worldwide after English and Chinese, and it's the official language in 21 countries.

That means that around 440 million people speak Spanish as their mother tongue! Add the many millions that hablan español ('speak Spanish') as a foreign language, and you can begin to fathom why Spanish is a language with an incredibly rich variety!

Each Spanish-speaking país ('country') has its own peculiarities and special sayings. Let's find out more.

Common Sayings From Spain

Let's start our exploration with Spain.

The Spanish flag
Spanish flag blowing in the wind

  • No te hagas el sueco (pronounced: noh tay AH-gahs ayl SWAY-koh), literally: 'Don't make yourself the Swedish'. '

This phrase, a variation of hacerse el sueco ('to make oneself/ to pretend to be Swedish') is a frase muy frecuente ('frequent phrase') between Spaniards. It is used to tell someone off for pretending not to understand what's being said to them or asked of them. Let's look at an ejemplo ('example'):

  • Hombre, no te hagas el sueco. ('Man, don't pretend to be Swedish.') Ya te he dicho dos veces que hagas esa llamada! ('I already told you twice to make that call!')

Otra expresión española muy común es ('Another very common Spanish expression is'):

  • Se me ha ido el santo al cielo. (Pronounced: say may ah EE-doh ayl SAHN-toh ayl THYAY-lo.) Literally: 'The saint has left me to the heavens.'

What a phrase, ¿verdad? ('right')? You can see the connection between Spain and Catholicism right there! It means that a person has forgotten what they wanted to say or do. For example:

  • Qué estabas contándome? ('What where you telling me?') Ay, no me acuerdo… se me ha ido el santo al cielo. ('Oh, I don't remember...the saint has left me to the heavens.')

Common Sayings From Mexico

What are some fun sayings from Mexico?

  • Manuel está picándose los ojos. (Pronounced: Mah-NWAYL ays-TA pee-KAHN-doh-say lohs OH-hohs.) Literally: 'Manuel is poking his eyes!'

Don't take it too literally. it simply means 'Manuel is killing time', or procrastinating. A possible context in which this saying could appear looks like this:

Manuel, mi compañero de trabajo, está picándose los ojos porque no le gusta la tarea que le toca. ('Manuel, my work colleague, is poking his eyes because he doesn't like the task he is supposed to do.)

Another important Mexican phrase is:

  • Mi jefa arma la vaca. (Pronounced: Mee HAY-fah AHR-mah lah BAH-kah). Literally: 'My boss is building the cow.')

Might this be: tu jefa armando la vaca, your boss building the cow?
woman and cows on a farm

Again, there is an underlying meaning: 'My boss is fundraising'! An example sentence could be:

  • Mi jefa arma la vaca para ese nuevo projecto que tiene. ('My boss is building the cow for that new project she has.')

Common Sayings From Argentina

Let's move on to Argentina!

  • Sácate la gorra, che (Pronounced:sah-KAH-tay lah GOH-rra) Literally: 'Take the hat off, mate!'

You might have guessed already that there is a different meaning to this typical Argentinean saying! You are right: it can be translated as 'don't be so serious, friend!'.

La bandera argentina, the Argentinean flag
Argentinean flag in the sky

An example sentence for this is:

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