Unless You’re a Native Spanish Speaker You’ll Never Say “Buenos días” Correctly

Photo by Frederik Trovatten.com on Unsplash

I learned the hard way in Puerto Rico. Not that it helped much, though one time I got it right by accident.

But most Latin people are more polite. They won’t try to correct you, which would be impossible anyway.

Even if you have perfect pitch and perfect mimicry, you still wouldn’t be able to say Buenos días correctly. This is not because you’ve missed out on the technique. It’s because you’ve missed out on what isn’t vocalized.

That’s the secret. There are letters that exist but shouldn’t be sounded.

An English speaker will generally mimic and say Bueno día. But see, it must be the influence of Castillian Spanish, where “s” words occupy a very small space, and are not sounded.

And that’s why you’ll never get it right. It’s like one hand clapping. You’re saying “buenos días,” but leaving the “s” spaces empty but but present for a millisecond.

I generally just say it Anglo, but rapidly with a Mexican accent. That’s what they’re expecting anyway — the Anglo part. Like I said, Latinos are polite, except for Puerto Ricans. Well I have to be honest. I don’t so much speak Spanish, I speak Latin with a Mexican accent. Nobody seems to notice the difference. There really is not much difference between ancient Latin and Spanish. It’s funny how a formal education can come in handy. Four years of Latin before age 16!

This part you’re gonna hate… Buenos días expires at noon (mediodía). Then you switch to buenas tardes,then later you switch to buenas noches.

Sometimes, especially when talking to Chinese Panamanians, I just give greetings in English. It amuses the Chinese, and it amuses Panamanian children.

Today I took the guagua (bus), partly because it saved me a quarter-mile of walking, partly because I wanted to tell the driver that I still wasn’t a NAZI. Which I did. He was pretty sharp figuring out that I was of German descent in the first place: I’d never really talked to him except to tell him where to stop. Some people are really smart.

But I was truthful. My ancestors moved to Ohio hundreds of years ago. NAZIs hadn’t been invented yet. However . . . we Germans are admittedly somewhat cold-blooded. Okay, maybe more than somewhat. Then again, we are the superior race on Earth.

Okay, okay. Just joking folks. I moved quite deliberately to a country of brown and black people — not that I much notice that, but I am a trained observer of nature. And I love having Chinese Panamanians around, and Indian Panameños. Indian from India, Chinese from waay back when the canal was first attempted. I love hearing ancient Chinese grandmas speaking in rapid and fluent Spanish!




Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store
Fred Ermlich

Fred Ermlich

Living in rural Panamá — non-extractive, non-capitalistic. Expat USA. Scientist, writer, researcher, teacher. STEM mentor +languages. Gargoylplex@protonmail.com