On Spanish Slang

Max Harrison-Caldwell
February 9, 2017

“Esos ya no tenemos, los vamos a recibir mañana.” I had been able to get most of my books at the librería near school but the three I needed for my Prado class still hadn’t arrived. I would have to pay Librería Visor another visit.

“Entonces probablemente vuelvo mañana para comprarlos.”

“Vuelva, hombre, vuelva. Probablemente vuelva. Subjuntivo. Tienes que hacer amigos españoles y hablar con ellos.” The bookstore employee continued on for ten minutes, telling me that I had to use the subjunctive correctly not only for my own good but also because it was disappearing from popular speech and we must all play our part in maintaining the rules of Spanish grammar. He had a great deal to say about the disastrous state of colloquial Spanish and the senseless folks who spoke it but what stuck with me was his advice on becoming a better speaker: “Tienes que hacer amigos españoles.”

“J***r tío pero que perfect eh? ¡Y first try! Que trucazo c***.” When the bookstore attendant told me to make Spanish friends, I doubt he was imagining that this was the kind of language I would hear regularly. The above cocktail of Spanish profanity and English skateboarding slang followed a plume of smoke out of my friend Rubens’ mouth last night at the skate park after we witnessed a particularly impressive trick.

I met Rubens on my fifth day in Madrid at Tetuán, the same skate park we spent five hours at yesterday evening. I initially approached him because I was hungry and wondering about restaurants in the area. Luckily he was hungry too and he took me to a grocery store across the street where he showed me which ham I should buy for sandwiches and introduced me to garlic aioli packaged like cream cheese in a tub. Back at the skate park, while we assembled our sandwiches, he introduced me to all his friends. Gabi had already bought some bread and Pablo happened to have salami on him and we all picnicked together, sharing food and stories. The skaters were more than happy to help me improve my Spanish but I’m not sure I learned anything about the subjunctive.

Since that first Sunday I’ve skated almost every day with Rubens and his roommate Christian. They’ve showed me all the great spots: Plaza Colón, Congresos, Juan Bravo, AZCA, Recoletos, Legazpi. We hadn’t returned to Tetuán, however, until last night, and although it was dark and I was tired I managed to land a few tricks I had never done before. I had improved. Sitting and chatting with the other skaters after the session I realized my Spanish had improved too, or, at the very least, my catalogue of crude exclamations had doubled.

While leaving the bookstore today I thought about why I had decided to study abroad. To improve my spoken and written Spanish? Definitely. To read the books I was carrying home? Without a doubt. But also to pass long afternoons eating ham out of the packaging, reclining on a sunlit bench in a beautiful skate park. To make friends who could show me places in Madrid no tourist would look twice at, plazas with no historical monuments but with ground so smooth a single push would carry a skater from one end to the other. And most of all to speak like the locals really speak. The subjunctive tense is a necessary part of Spanish grammar but the preservation of proper speech through condescension towards the uneducated language of the street, well, ¡me la suda!

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Max Harrison-Caldwell

<p>I&rsquo;m a Spanish major in my third year at Occidental College. I want to pursue a career in journalism after graduating so right now I&rsquo;m trying to get as much writing experience as I can. In addition to writing, I like skateboarding and pita chips.</p>

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