Everyday Spanish Words with a Peruvian Twist
Spanish is spoken a little differently in each country, as I explain here. I have lived in Mexico and Spain, and travelled to various countries throughout Central and South America. Now I live in Peru and I have noticed that Peruvians use certain everyday words a little differently than in other places. Maybe I didn’t notice last time I was here, and maybe these words are used in the same way in other countries, but these are words that have stood out to me for their particular usage in Peru:
In most places, cancelar means to cancel. It also means to cancel in Peru but people here also use it for to pay. I suppose this is the same in English when we say to cancel a debt. However, I was very confused the first time I was told that I could cancelar my empanada at the front of the store. I didn’t want to cancel it, I wanted to pay for it so I could eat it!
For me, de repente has always meant suddenly. Here in Peru it’s used to mean maybe. In other places maybe is tal vez or a lo mejor. I say “tal vez nos vemos en la fiesta” (maybe I’ll see you at the party), but Peruvians say “de repente nos vemos en la fiesta” (which to me sounds like suddenly, I’ll see you at the party).
Many English speakers know that playa means beach. In Peru, they also say playa de estacionamiento for a parking lot, and many parking lot signs simply say Playa. I was very confused at first when I kept seeing signs for the beach in the middle of the city…
In most places I’ve been, simpático means nice – as in a nice, friendly person. In Peru, it can mean nice too but it’s also used for good-looking or pretty. So when I asked the kids in the study I’m doing if they thought their teacher was simpática (meaning nice), the boys got shy and giggled that yes, she is (pretty).
Deber vs. Tener Que
I have always understood deber to mean should, and tener que to mean to have to. Here in Peru, it’s just the opposite. So in Peru if you want to tell someone not to do something, they say no tienes que… which to me sounds optional (you don’t have to) but they mean don’t do it!
Of course, there are also a lot of slang words unique to Peru. A few examples are lucas for soles (the money here), huevon for dude or asshole (depending on whether you say it in friendly way or not), and pata for guy or friend (this word means leg or paw in everyday Spanish). For more Peruvian slang, there are tons of blogs and online articles on the topic, such as this one.
This is just a small selection of words. This year, Martha Hildebrandt released an updated version of her book of Peruanismos which outlines hundreds of words and phrases unique to Peru. And of course there are unique usages of words all over the Spanish-speaking world – just part of the fun of learning the language!