Sound Less Like a Gringo Using Ecuadorian Slang

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Learning Ecuadorian slang has been one of my biggest challenges in Ecuador. Thankfully I’ve been picking up more and more in Cuenca

As I learn more Spanish I see that it’s not so much about picking up proper tenses and verbs but understanding how the locals speak.

In Colombia I felt like I had progressed ten-fold when I finally understood the colombian slang words I could not find in my dictionary.
 

 
In Ecuador I’m picking up more nuances and while many of these words are not unique to Ecuador, there are some things you should know.

The Beginner’s Guide to Ecuadorian Slang

strawberries on white background

Frutilla

One of the first things I noticed was that my strawberry yogurt was no longer called fraisa but now frutilla.

Turns out the story is a bit more complicated than a simple word swap.

23 EXOTIC:
Ecuador Fruits

In Ecuador frutilla are considered the native strawberry. But even Ecuador isn’t immune to massive globalization and fraisa is now being used to describe the monster strawberries we’ve grown accustomed to.

So even if you forget to use frutilla, the ladies at the market will know you want strawberries.

Muy Amable

I had heard this many times and wondered why the girl at the tienda was telling me I was very friendly. Turns out it is also used as an expression to mean much appreciated.

This is one of my favourite because, like most gringos, I’m trying to be polite as possible which means saying gracias upwards of 50 times a day. I’ve been told to stop doing that.

But now when the bus driver helps me put my backpack on or someone gives me directions, I’ve learned that muy amable is the way to politely say thanks.

Learn Ecuadorian slang from locals

Doña

This is used throughout many Latin American countries when speaking with older women.

However, you need to be a bit careful in Ecuador as it is not a synonym for señora.

Doña is used to politely address the woman at the fruit market but you would not use this to address others.
 

ALSO READ:  Cuy in Ecuador

 
I heard some people who had traveled from Argentina addressed the hostel owner as doña. Unfortunately in their effort to be polite they were actually offending her.

Social status and class is still very much part of Ecuadorian society. Vocabulary among Ecuadorians often signals as to what social class an individual is from.

Just as in English words often identify your upbringing and education.

Señora vs señorita

This is really tricky ground as every country has its own definition. In some countries only little girls are señoritas but in other cases, such as Ecuador it reflects your marital or civility.

So one day an elderly lady may call me señorita but if I’m eating lunch with a male companion I become señora.

When in doubt, use señora as a sign of respect.

graffiti with Ecuadorian slang

And finally when you’re just hanging out having some drinks these Ecuadorian slang phrases may help:

Chuta – damn, shoot
Esta pleno – it’s fine
Buenaso – really good
Chachos – jokes
Estoy limpia – literally I’m clean but here I’m broke (Coastal slang)
Farra – party
Me ves la cara de gringa? – I have the face of a gringo? a.k.a  Are you trying to rip me off?
Andate a la verga – Get the hell out
Buena carne –  Good meat, used to describe someone you’re attracted to (Coastal slang)
and my favourite…
Huevada – bullshit

Ecuadorians are very forgiving to foreigners

So if you forget to formally address someone as usted and use tu or use a word that doesn’t reflect their social status they will attribute it to your novice Spanish rather than a personal insult.

But it’s always good to learn how things should be done properly as it will reward you in kind.

What about you? What Ecuadorian slang words have you learned that made you feel like you fit in a bit more?

Join the Conversation

  1. Pingback: Sound less like a gringo using Ecuadorian slang | Travel News
  2. Thomas - IT Blog says:

    Thanks for the Spanish lesion 🙂

  3. It’s amazing how different Spanish can be from country to country. Here in Spain Doña is super formal and rarely used because Spaniards are much more casual, hence using vosotros. Looks like you’re picking up a lot of Spanish, congrats!

  4. Ayngelina Author says:

    @Roy
    I knew nothing but really wish I had, makes the experience so much better.

    You can do what I did, and do it on the road but if I had to do it again I would have learned beforehand.

    @Rob
    You can still use fiesta but it’s more for a holiday or a family celebration whereas farra is more appropriate for a house party.

  5. Glen Abbott says:

    You’re so right ayngelina… Each country, and even each region of that country,has its own regional slang. And sometimes words that have a vulgar connotation in one latin country have a different (non-vulgar) connotation in another!

  6. How cool. Reminds me that I need to start learning Spanish! I have only 6 weeks left, ugh.

    Did you know much spanish before you went there? Or did you take classes?

  7. Rob Bloggeries says:

    I’m glad I now know farra, wouldn’t want to roll in their like some square dropping oxford proper “fiesta”. Regrettably, when I hear “fiesta” I immediately think of that tiny ford model.

    1. Jacob whitt says:

      you dont need to be learning this launguage you are white now go back to mommys basement

      1. Ayngelina Author says:

        I’m not sure everyone would agree but thanks for taking the time to comment.

  8. Hahahaha, I love these posts!!! Can’t wait to see your post for Argentina. 🙂

  9. Jodate!! (Hope you actually haven’t had to use that one!)

    One of my favourite things in Colombia is how people used “con mucho gusto” for everything they did….with much pleasure! They were the friendliest bunch.

  10. Well, you have pucked up some nice words here. In no time flat you won’t be a gringa anymore.

  11. Sorry, terrible typo. I mean picked up!!!

  12. I love it when you can learn a language past the basics and actually learn some regional nuances. Good work! Cheers!

  13. I’m kind of surprised that they still use Doña in Ecuador. Around here people name their buildings (Edificio Doña Patricia) and their botillerias (Boterillia Doña Ely) Doñas but I don’t think it’s a term used much when actually speaking.

  14. Jill - Jack and Jill Travel The World says:

    Huevada — I think that one is my favorite too. I can see that using that a lot (jokingly or otherwise) :p

  15. Justin Hamlin says:

    I can so relate to this. I took 4 years of school-book taught proper spanish in high school. To help out, I started working different shifts at my job with a lot of mexican employees.

    Fast forward, that was now 12-14 years ago, I started dating and now married a Colombian woman, who is very close with her mom and her family, in fact, her mom lives with us currently.

    Picking up their Spanish, which is proper, Columbian Spanish, versus Mexican Spanish that I had learned before, and the proper Spanish I learned in school, it is like learning a whole new language!

    It is amazing to see what you learn when travelling, even when you already (mostly) speak the language.

    Great blog Ayngelina, love it.

  16. greg urbano says:

    “dude” – a buddy
    “ain’t” – not
    “rockin” – good

  17. Bryana Dickens says:

    I’m learning Spanish and heard “pendejo” and “tevron” in one day. My parents were too embarrassed to tell me outright what they meant, so I had to look them up myself. 🙂

  18. The NVR Guys says:

    These are some of my favorite posts. I move these links to Evernote so I have them on our next trip south.

    One of our goals this year is to take our spanish to the next level. To be honest, it we can only go up from here.

  19. That frutilla/strawberry photo is so upsetting…half the berry cut away and thrown out! Gee when I grow them we just remove the leaves and gobble the whole lot.
    🙂

  20. Nice post on differences in Spanish between countries. It sounds like Ecuador is more similar to Peru that the others. When I asked for fraisa ice cream in Cusco, they did not know what I meant.
    When are you going to Bolivia? I predict it will be your favorite country.
    Jason
    Jason

  21. I used to drive my Spanish teacher CRAZY because I am originally from El Paso and spoke border Spanish. I kept getting confused when she kept saying “coche” when it clearly was a “carro”.

  22. The slang is so important, and it’s different in every country which makes it difficult to learn when you’re moving around. “Muy amable” is good to know. I hear that a lot in El Salvador, and I thought they were calling people friendly.

    The one I learned in Mexico is, “Que chido!” which means “How cool!”

    I have learned lots of slang curses, but I’ll leave those out of your blog 🙂

  23. Border Breaker ! says:

    This is great, i love learning regional dialects, and slangs for all the languages i’m interested in. Please make more 🙂

  24. Ha! I love the last one – great meat! It’s great to become so connected to a culture that you start to pick up on slang like this. Because of how we speak, we do it so often in our own language we don’t even realize we are doing it. You know you are starting to fit in and get connected when you start learning the slang! Great post!

  25. Thank you for the language lesson.. now if you don’t mind can we get to the fun part.. like EATING 😛 hehe

  26. Ayngelina–
    Love this post! Speaking a language natively is so much less about that textbook speech and so much more about the guttural raw slang that give a culture a little more spice. You’re awesome!

  27. WOW!!! Such a beautiful place!
    As a traveler, its always nice to learn something from the locals, you kind of feel happy…
    First time here but I thoroughly enjoyed my visit!

  28. Sweet! Here in Spain there are plenty of people from South America and each of them carries their countries culture with them. They would use usted (the polite form of you) instead of tu and sometimes it gets confusing as it gives me the feeling that they are putting distance between me and them. Luckily they have a way of speaking very melodious and that betrays their origins and culture lol 🙂

  29. These posts are so interesting for someone in the process of learning Spanish but I must resist – I don’t want to sound like an ecuadorian in Spain!

  30. LeslieTravel says:

    Great post! This is a classic: “Me ves la cara de gringo?” I hadn’t heard that before but it makes sense. In Argentina they use frutilla for strawberry too. It’s interesting how the words change meaning from one country to another.

  31. I love how you are taking the time to learn a little about the culture rather than just plowing through all the popular tourist attractions. Your posts on local slang have to be my faves 🙂

  32. GlobetrotterGirls says:

    Hey Ayngelina! As much as these posts are awesome, funny and helpful, too, it is also an excellent point you make with them. Grammar & tenses are so much less important than sounding like the people around you. My Spanish grammar is good because I studied it a lot, but my German grammar is not perfect. Yet people still thought I was from Germany when I lived there because of the words I used and my accent. That is most important (and yes, I used to be a language teacher, eating my words now). Was trying to think of my fav expressions in Spanish to sound local – in Guatemala, if you want to sound surprised in a conversation, to say like “no way, unreal” you can say ‘hijuela’. This is the non-swear word version of the stronger ‘hijo de la gran puta’ which is pretty harsh and means more like ‘What the F*** is your problem!’ or something to that effect. Keep these coming, we’re preparing for South America, coming soon!

  33. Hahaha my boss usually says “andate a la verga”. From where I come from in Spain (Canary Islands) we use a lot of local expressions too… the one I like most is “Vete por la sombrita” (walk in the shadow)… and it’s an expression used when you say goodbye to someone.

  34. John in France says:

    In the early days of learning French I always said I wouldn’t waste time in learning slang and bad language! Well that soon changed as I could never understand the main points in the movies!! Having a good understanding of grammar is great to start with, but then you’ve just got to run with speaking it – even with all the errors! Keep up the good work!

  35. Muchas gracias! I love learning new words, particularly if they’ll help me sound more local. But then there’s the problem of having to learn all the new local slang of the next country! Phew, so hard to keep up!

  36. Adrienne l ShenVenture says:

    Oh boy, I took 5 years of Spanish in school, but never practiced it so forgot it all. good job with picking up slang Ayngelina and teaching us as well!

  37. Spanish slang is always so complicated. I remember someone in Panama telling me that the way you say “take a bus” there actually means something really quite horrible in Ecuador.

    I learned an Argentine phrase the other day. Mete un tira en mi bolas. I probably have the Spanish off, but it translates into “Shoot myself in the balls.” Which means, I’ll be really upset.

    Still scratching my head over that one.

  38. Christy @ Ordinary Traveler says:

    Some of these are hilarious and very useful! I love “Me ves la carra de gringo?” I need to remember that one. 😉 “Buena carne” is a great way of describing someone you are attracted to!

  39. Ha, good to know! Very interesting that the name you use to address people indicates class and can offend people. Learning slang in new cities is always fun. Took me a while to learn British slang, but now I love it!

  40. great post! I love Me ves la carra de gringo? and Buena carne haha
    When ever I speak to Germans they always seem impressed that I know the word “bitte” which means please 🙂

  41. Ayngelina,
    I love your posts like this!!! This kind of info is some of the most insightful and it only comes with your commitment to a place.

  42. Ryan - PauseTheMoment.com says:

    Love this!

  43. Love it! I can’t wait to start planning our trip to South America so I can practice/learn more spanish with people who actually speak it! Bookmarked!

  44. Great tips! As a gringa that knows three languages, it’s always best to study stuff like this first and then go there and be surrounded by it.

  45. Corinne @ Gourmantic says:

    Buena carne made me laugh out loud! I’ll have to remember that one next time I’m checking out the talent at the beach! 😛

  46. I love this post Ayngelina! I think language differences are one of the things that make travel so much fun. I frequently say ridiculous things in foreign languages while travelling, in an attempt to communicate with locals. I am frequently the source of much amusement because I’ve said something totally other than that which i was trying to say. I wouldn’t have it any other way though. You’ve got to try, haven’t you? I have always found that people are very friendly when they see you attempting their language too, even if your attempts are terrible!

  47. Thanks for sharing, some good slang to keep in mind when travel in South America.

  48. I love learning about the regional differences of Spanish.
    If Huevada is your favourite then you’ll hear it A LOT in Chile, however pronounced like Hueá (final d sometimes disappears in Chilean Spanish)
    There are also a million variations of the word such as Huevón, Hueveo etc.

    Chuta – damn, shoot (also used in Chile)
    In Chile they say Estoy pato (literally, I’m duck) when they are broke.

    Saludos

  49. “Me ves la carra de gringo?” – I am going to use this one all the time. Especially since I am a gringa, haha.

    I think my favorite has been the Quechua slang I’ve learned from my cook. When in the Southern Andes I can say “Chay nata!” which is something like “yeaaaa, baby.” And I use “Runtu Sapa” for “big balls”.

  50. I love dialects and local slang. Although they can get us into trouble more than not. Like you, I try to do my best to figure things out – but sometimes it’s almost unavoidable to make mistakes. Who knew Dona is reserved for market women?

    You made me smile while reading…Unfortunately, these differences disappear more and more in our global world.

  51. I’ve been living in the northwest of Argentina for almost 6 years, and here doña is only used in the countryside. They’ll call the boss (el patron) don and at the same time they’ll call a worker from a certain age(peon) don…
    It expresses a certain status (age/hierarchy)…so no offending in Argentina using the word ‘doña’.

    I could name tons of argentinean words – especialy the ones who are proper Spanish in Spain but rude here. For example: ‘coger’ – you don’t want to use that in Argentina because it refers to having intercourse. And while a concha is a shell in Spain, here it refers to a feminine body part… imagine the phrase spoken by a Spanish ‘voy a coger esta concha’ (by the way: instead of coger we say tomar and caracol instead of concha)

    ps: please, excuse my spelling errors, which I’m sure I’ve written

  52. manonthelam says:

    I learned a bit of Spanish a few years back in Guatemala, but all I seem to remember is the slang. So thanks for a refresher from an Ecuadorian angle…:>)

  53. potc_pirate_girl says:

    Hey, just so you know, it’s “cachos” not “chachos”, and it’s “me vez CON carra de gringo”
    But all in all, good post 🙂

    (I’ve lived 11 years in Ecuador)

    1. Ayngelina Author says:

      Aha! I will have to fire Andres for not proofing this one properly 🙂 Thanks for the correction and I’m so jealous you’ve been able to spend so long in Ecuador.

  54. Haha, I love the “Me ves la carra de gringo?”

    My Spanish at the moment is too basic for making intelligent conversation. But I hope one day I can be using Spanish slang according the country like you too!

    1. Ayngelina Author says:

      Locals love this expression because they look at you confused, like yeah you are a gringa. They always laugh and give me a better price.

  55. Maria Eugenia says:

    Thanks for sharing the slang that you have picked up in Ecuador!

    Just a couple of corrections:
    It is ‘cachos’ (jokes) not ‘chachos’ as someone has already pointed out.
    (cachos colarados, literally, red jokes, are ‘dirty jokes)
    And it is ‘me ves con CARA (not carra) de gringo’. The correction someone made of ‘vez’ instead of ‘ves’ is incorrect (ves is from ‘ver’ to see). Finally, it is ‘buenazo’ (rather than buenaSo’.

    1. Ayngelina Author says:

      Ahh thanks for the clarification, I still write things phonetically but need to work on that.

  56. Been to Ecuador a couple of times and I’ve heard the word Buchica. Is it like Chuta? I heard this a lot.

  57. Shac Cooper says:

    I call strawberries fresas. I have have heard of frutilla for strawberry. They call strawberries frutillas in Chile also. However, I have never heard of fraisa. And for Senora/Senorita, I have had a woman who is in her early 30s get mad at me for calling her senora. She told me that she is a senorita. She is married, but the reason she didn’t want to be called senora is because it is seen as too much respect as in addressing a older woman. It’s like when you say yes maam to a lady and she says that you don’t have to call her maam. Some women don’t like to be called senora for that reason. In fact, I have been to stores that call the women 40 or under senorita and the men 40 or under joven. It is very common also to call your waitress senorita

    1. Ayngelina Author says:

      Ahh I think fraisas may be my phonetic spelling of fresas 🙂

  58. Beatriz Herrera says:

    Excellent! I love this slang lessons. I am a fun of Slang aswell, so I will give you the equivalent of this same words in Peru (my home)

    Pucha: damn, shoot
    Esta bueno: it’s fine
    Buenazo: really good
    Cochineo: jokes
    Estoy misio: I’m broke
    Tono: party
    Crees que soy tonto?: Are you trying to rip me off?
    Vete al carajo: Get the hell out
    Churro/churra: Used to describe someone you’re attracted to.
    Huevada: bullshit (same in Perú!)

    So if you happened to come to Perú one day, now know what to say 😉

  59. Actually Cachos are jokes, not chachos. Also its cara and not carra. Maybe it was a typo? The rest is correct 🙂

  60. Una pequeña corrección.
    Cara —–no carra
    Cachos—- no chachos
    El resto perfecto.
    Nice keep up the good work and spread the word of the beauty of my country ECUADOR
    Oh! If you like a good quiet beach with soft white sand “TORTUGA BAY ” is the best . No people live there is nice to relax and swim with no waves nice bye

  61. “Me ves la cara de gringo/a?” is something Ecuadorians say when they are being ripped off. If a gringo uses it, they should expect to be laughed at because yes, you do have a cara de gringo/a. In my experience as a foreigner, a better phrase for gringos to use in this case is “Acaso crees que soy turista?” (Do you think I am a tourist?)

  62. It’s really amazing how many ways you can say “I’m broke” in spanish

  63. Sean @ Outdoor Travellers says:

    This is great, thanks for the post. I’ve been learning Spanish for about a year now after living in Mexico, this will definitely help if I visit Ecuador!

  64. Excellent post!. I’m a huge fan of slang and colloquial speech but so far I’ve yet to be exposed to Equadorian Spanish.

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