UNIQUE CUBAN EXPRESSIONS: WHAT THEY MEAN AND HOW TO USE THEM

Cuban expressions are, well…expressive.

Things are frequently not what they seem when “speaking in Cuban” and using Cuban expressions.

Want the best price? Make sure you “put yourself in something” (get your act together) “tear his arm off” (negotiate well) and “don’t let them grab your ass” (take you for a fool).

Cuban expressions are rich, descriptive and  fun. They can also be very confusing… unless you’re Cuban.

I would like to share some of my favorite Cuban expressions and help you understand how to use them so that next time you’re with Cubans “you will be finishing”  (everyone will be very impressed with you).

Expression: No comas mierda
Translation: Do not eat feces
Meaning: Don’t be a fool

Expression: Va a la Habana y apaga fuego
Translation: He goes to Havana and puts out fires
Meaning: He is very talented, does many things well.

Expression: Radio Bemba
Translation: Radio Big Lip
Meaning: Gossip, as in, I heard it on radio big lip

Expression: Comiendo un cable
Translation: Eating a cable
Meaning: Having a real hard time.

 Cuban expressions are are colorful as these walls in La Guarida.
Inside La Guarida it is a different world

Expression: Eramos pocos y pario Catana
Translation: There were few of us then Catana gave birth
Meaning: As if things weren’t bad enough, they got even worse

Expression: Tremendo arroz con mango
Translation: A huge mango with rice
Meaning: A big confusion

Expression: Eso va a terminar como la fiesta del Guatao
Translation: That will end like the Guatao party
Meaning: That’s not a good idea or that will not end well

Expression: Canto “El Manicero”
Translation: He sang “The Peanut Vendor”
Meaning: He died

Expression: Eso dura lo que dura un merengue en la puerta de una escuela
Translation: That will last about as long as a sugary pastry at the door of a school
Meaning: That’s not going to last too long

Expression: No tiene bistec atrasado
Translation: He has no delayed steak
Meaning: He looks healthy and in good shape

More Cuban expressions

1. Cubans don’t eat hotdogs with “all the trimmings,” they eat them with “all the irons” (con todos los hierros).

2. Cubans are not “very talented,” they “go to Havana and extinguish fires” (va a La Habana y apaga fuego).

3. Cubans don’t “think something is outrageous,” they “throw a mango aggressively” (le zumba el mango).

4. Cubans don’t just give directions. When something is “very far away,” they say it is “where the devil gave the three voices, and no one heard him” (donde el diablo dio las tres voces y nadie le oyó) or “it is in the earth’s ass” (eso queda en el culo del mundo).

But if the place is nearby, it is “to the rooster’s crow” (al cantio del gallo) and if the place is “too dark,” it is a “wolf’s mouth” (la boca de un lobo).

5. Cubans don’t tell you that “you have been taken for a fool,” they say that “they grabbed your ass” (te cojieron el culo).

6. Cubans aren’t just “fed up,” they are “up to their last hair” (hasta el último pelo).

7. Cubans aren’t “indifferent,” they “care three cucumbers” (me importa tres pepinos).

8. Cubans won’t tell you something was “confusing,” they’ll tell you it was a “huge rice with mango” (tremendo arroz con mango).

9. Cubans won’t say something is a “big lie,” they’ll tell you it is a “huge package” (tremendo paquete).

10. Cubans will never do something “underhandedly,” they will do it “by the left” (por la izquierda).

11. Cubans will not “cause trouble,” they will “bleat like a goat” (arme un berrinche).

12. Cubans are not just “proud,” they “cannot fit another bird seed into their butt” (no le cabe un alpiste en el culo).

13. Cubans don’t ask you to “stop being a fool,” they ask you to “stop consuming feces” (deja de comer mierda).

14. Cubans don’t think something will “end badly,” they think it will end “like Guatao’s party” (esto va a terminar como la fiesta del Guatao).

15. Cubans don’t think you are “pretentious,” they think you “polish yourself a lot” (te das tremenda lija).

16. Cubans won’t ask you to “keep a secret,” they’ll say “with a closed mouth, flies don’t enter” (boca cerrada no entran moscas).

17. Cubans don’t “die,” they “stretched a leg” (estiró la pata) or “sang the peanut vendor” (cantó el manisero).

18. Cubans don’t say you should “attack the problem at its source,” they say “if the dog is dead, the rabies will stop” (muerto el perro se acaba la rabia).

19. Cubans don’t think something “will not last very long,” they think “it will last about as long as a sugary pastry at a school’s door” (eso dura lo que dura un merengue en la puerta de una escuela).

20. Cubans don’t “go somewhere reluctantly,” they “go like the cat whose tail is being pinched” (como el gato que le están pellizcando el rabo).

21. Cubans don’t say “the situation is increasing dire,” they say “there were so many of us then Catana gave birth” (eramos tantos y pario Catana.)

22. A Cuban kid is not “annoying,” he is a “cow lung” (un bofe).

23. Cubans don’t think “someone or something is meaningless,” it just “doesn’t paint anything” (no pinta nada).

24. A Cuban would never say “a woman’s dress is a poor fit,” they’ll say “she looks like a badly wrapped tamale” (parece un tamal mal envuelto).

25. Cubans don’t think “someone is lazy,” he just “doesn’t shoot a pea” (no dispara un chicharo).

26. A Cuban won’t tell you how it is,” they’ll tell you “to bread, bread and to wine, wine” (al pan, pan y al vino, vino).

27. Cubans don’t think “someone is incompetent,” they think he is a “yam with a tie” (es un ñame con corbata).

28. A Cuban is never “useless,” he is a “zero to the left” (un zero a la izquierda).

29. A Cuban won’t tell you to “stop encouraging someone” they’ll tell you to “stop cranking him up” (no le des cranque).

30. Cubans don’t “go senile,” they lose a coconut” (perdio el coco).

31. A Cuban is never “foolish,” he just “eats what the chicken pecks at” (come de lo que pica el pollo).

32. A Cuban won’t “rip you off,” he’ll just leave you “cackling and without feathers” (sin plumas y cacareando).

33. A Cuban is not “skinny,” he is a “butcher’s hook” (es un gancho de carniceria).

34. Cubans don’t “go nuts,” their “coconut skates” (le patino el coco) or they “get little mice in their coconuts” (tiene guayavitos en el coco).

35. Cubans are not “spinsters,” they’re just “left to dress saints” (se quedo para vestir santos).

36. A Cuban won’t “pretend to be innocent,” they’ll pretend to be a “little dead fly” (se hace la mosquita muerta).

37. Cubans are never in a “bad mood,” they just “woke up with a disheveled bun” (se desperto con el moño virado).

38. Cubans don’t say someone is “coming on to you,” they say “that egg wants salt” (ese huevo quiere sal).

39. Cubans didn’t “have a hard time” they “ate a huge cable” (se comio tremendo cable).

40. Cubans won’t tell you to “get lost,” they’ll tell you to “go to the crow’s nest” (vete para el carajo).

41. A Cuban is not “pretentious,” he is the “last Coca-Cola in the desert” (la ultima Coca-Cola en el desierto).

42. Cubans don’t “congratulate you for doing a good job,” they tell you “you ate it” (te la comiste) or “you are finishing” (estas acabando).

43. A Cuban doesn’t think someone “is a jerk,” they think he is a “pubic hair” (es un pendejo).

44. Cubans won’t ask you to “make a decision,” they’ll tell you to “either comb your hair or curl it” (o te peinas o te haces papelitos.)

45. A Cuban won’t tell you she’s “not in the mood” she’ll say “this oven is not ready for pastries” (este horno no esta listo para pastelitos).

46. Cubans won’t tell you “your medical case is hopeless,” They’ll tell you “even the Chinese doctor can’t cure you” (eso no lo cura ni el medico Chino).

47. Cubans won’t say something is “inconsequential,” they’ll say it is “not a fart that will break the underpants” (no es un peo que rompa los calzoncillos).

48. Cubans don’t “give awesome parties,” they “throw the house out the door” (tiro la casa por la ventana).

49. A Cuban is not “smart,” he “knows more than the cockroaches of Guanabacoa” (sabe mas que las cucarachas de Guanabacoa) or he is a lantern (es una lumbrera).

50. Cubans are not “outspoken,” they don’t have hairs on their tongues” (no tine pelos en la lengua).

51. Cubans don’t get angry,” their “testicles snore” (le roncan los huevos).

52. Cubans aren’t “cheap,” they “walk on their elbows” (caminan con los codos).

53. A Cuban doesn’t “have a streak of bad luck,” they “have a barefoot Chinese man behind them” (tengo un Chino descalzo detras de me).

54. A Cuban won’t tell someone to not be distracted,” They’ll say “don’t be thinking of small rodents” (deja de pensar en musarañas).

55. A Cuban is “never off his game,” he “is salty” (esta salao).

56. Cubans never “admit mistakes” they “put their foot in it” (meti la pata).

57. Cubans don’t ask you to “share your food,” they’ll ask you if “you think they have a square mouth” (tengo la boca cuadrada?)

58. Cubans don’t think “it’s hot outside” they think it’s so hot that the rocks are breaking” (hace un calor que parte las piedras).

59. Cubans don’t think “old people are wise,” they think “the devil knows more because he is old than because he is the devil” (mas sabe el diablo por viejo que por diablo).

60. Cubans don’t think “something is suspicious,” they think “there is a caged cat” (aqui hay gato encerrado).

61. A Cuban doesn’t believe “something is obvious,” they believe it “falls from the tree” (se cai de la mata).

62. A Cuban won’t tell you he “doesn’t understand,” he’ll tell you “now you’ve put it in Chinese” (ahora me los has puesto en Chino).

63. Cubans don’t think “something is severe” they’ll tell you it’s “of mother” (de madre).

64. A Cuban won’t tell you “you’re nuts,” he’ll tell you “you have sawdust on the rooftop” (tienes serrin en la azotea).

65. Cubans don’t think you “have enough of something,” they think you have it “through a tube and seven keys” (por un tubo y siete llaves).

66. Cubans don’t think “it’s cold,” they think “the monkey whistles” (chifla el mono.}

67. Cubans won’t tell you to “get going,” they tell you to “put yourself in something” (ponte en algo.)

68. Cubans don’t say “a place is empty,” they’ll say there were “only four cats there” (nada mas habian cuatro gatos.)

69. Cubans won’t say “something is obvious,” they’ll say “don’t even talk about the hairpiece” (ni hablar del peluquin.)

70. Cubans don’t say something is “seen frequently” or “very common,” it is “even in the soup” (hasta en la sopa.)

71. A Cuban doesn’t tell someone he is “fortunate,” he tell him to “hit yourself on your chest with a brick” (date con un ladrillo en el pecho.)

69. Cubans express surprise, indignation, amusement, shock, dismay and dozens of other expressions with the statement “this has no name” (esto no tiene nombre).      

I hope you enjoyed these Cuban expressions.  What are some unusual expressions from YOUR background?

If you’re interested in Cuba, you might enjoy these posts.

How to experience Cuban culture in the United States

How a fascinating book helped me discover a favorite author

9 Cuba UNESCO World Heritage sites

Want to learn more about the Cuban expressions? Get these reference books:

Cuban Expressions
PIN ME, BABY!

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Talek Nantes

This blog was created to inspire your travels and to explore experiences in fascinating locations. What you will find are thoughts on how to immerse yourself in local culture, food, history and people. On your way to these adventures I hope to provide you with useful information to help you get there. Come see the world with me!

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