Unless you’ve been living on some internet-less, TV-less mountain somewhere, you’ve probably heard the exciting news: Cuba is finally opening up to tourism from the U.S.! This gorgeous island has plenty of wonderful sights to see, whether you’re interested in studying relics from the Revolution, or want to check out Cuba’s pristine beaches. People are raring to go now more than ever and Cuba’s mysterious allure of being a formerly closed off country is drawing in its fair share of people curious to see what the island is all about. Are you polishing up on your Spanish in hopes of making your own trip soon? Well, you should know that Cuban Spanish can vary quite a bit from that heard and spoken in most other Spanish-speaking nations. Don’t worry though, we’ve got you covered. Check out and memorize these 10 slang words and phrases to help you sound like a native when you land on La Isla Grande!
1. Yuma = Foreigner
As a foreigner, it’s very possible someone will refer to you as a yuma (eeyew-ma) during your time in Cuba, but it depends on where you hail from! Foreigners from other Latin American countries don’t run the risk of being called yuma as much as those who are white, have blonde hair, and hail from Europe or the U.S.
2. Gringo = Foreigner
Gringo (green-goh) is another slang word used to refer to foreigners, but specifically Americans. Folklore has it that the term developed from locals yelling “Green, go home!” after American soldiers clad in green and the phrase eventually was shortened to gringo.
3. Acere = Friend
Perhaps a better interpretation of the word acere (ah-say-re) would be to translate it as meaning “dude”. Cuban culture tends to be very casual and laid-back, but this term should still be reserved for people you know reasonably well.
4. Guagua = Bus
You’ve probably learned the more formal way to say the word “bus” in Spanish as camión/colectivo/ómnibus, but locals will think you’re a little strange if you wander around La Havana asking for the any of those variations. As funny as it sounds, buses in Cuba, very similar to what they say in Puerto Rico, are all referred to as guaguas (pronounced something like a “wahwah”).
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5. Frutabomba = Papaya
The first big mistake I made when in Cuba was to walk into a local market and ask for a papaya. Suffice to say I got plenty of scandalized looks and came back empty handed. Why? Because a papaya in Cuba has a very, very different meaning. It means “vagina,” so yeah… just remember to say frutabomba (frew-ta-bohm-bah) if you want to avoid an awkward situation, trust me.
6. Dale = Hurry up
Cuban Spanish is sprinkled pretty liberally with the word dale (dah-lay), mostly because it has several uses. You can use it instead of “goodbye” to say farewell, as a motivational word when you want someone to speed things up or to come along with you, or if you want to sound like Pitbull.
7. Tremendo mangón = Smoking hot
Finally, a phrase to use when you want to woo a guy or girl. Tremendo mangón (tre-men-doh man-goh) can be used to refer to people you think are really, really, ridiculously good looking (to quote our dear friend Zoolander). And if you hear it about yourself? Take it as a compliment because someone is definitely checking you out!
8. Chévere = Cool
Chévere (ché-vey-re) has got to be one of my favourite Cuban slang words because it just seems to slide off the tongue in a, well, oh-so-cool way. This word can be used with almost anything, whether you’re complimenting someone’s dressing sense or talking about a great movie.
9. Voy a hacer café = I’m going to make coffee
This phrase may literally translate as “I’m going to make coffee,” but in Cuba it has an underlying meaning that most people would be prone to miss. It’s not considered rude in Cuba to drop in on someone unannounced for an afternoon chat. Saying Voy a hacer café is literally a very polite, roundabout way of telling a guest it’s time for them to leave. Now that’s some powerful coffee!
10. Coger botella = Hitchhike
Public transportation in Cuba isn’t exactly the epitome of punctual and efficient so a lot of folks turn to hitchhiking as a means of getting around. Coger botella (co-hair bo-teya) literally translates as “grab a bottle” but in Cuba this phrase is used to mean hitchhiking. And, in case you’re curious, the best way to hitchhike is to stand at a stoplight and ask drivers who stop if they’re going your way.
Visiting a new country is always a great adventure and you’re bound to have some truly amazing experiences. Having some good Cuban slang in your vocabulary will help to enrich that adventure even more and will probably go a long way towards impressing the locals!
Are there any must-know Cuban slang words and phrases you think every visitor to Cuba should know? Share them with us!