Mexican Spanish is very different from the versions of the language spoken in other hispanic countries like Spain, Chile, Costa Rica, etc. We have our own slang and funny expressions that you’re unlikely to find anywhere else. So, whether you’re planning an epic trip through Mexico, want to impress your Mexican friends at home, or an expat in Mexico city who wants to blend in a little better with the locals, this quick introduction to 14 common Mexican Spanish sayings should help you achieve your goal in no time at all!
“Don’t say ‘what’, say ‘mande’” is one of those classic things Mexican moms tell their kids. Even if we’ve never really understood what’s wrong with asking “what” (“qué” in Spanish), this recurring instruction has stuck with us, and we commonly use “mande” as a polite Mexican Spanish version of the aforementioned word.
So remember, when you think your waiter is asking what type of wine you want with your contemporary Mexican dinner, but you didn’t quite catch what he said, don’t say “¿qué?,” say “¿mande?”
Bueno is the first word you’ll hear whenever you make a phone call to anyone in Mexico. It isn’t really a salutation, more just a random word (bueno literally means “good”) we use at the beginning of every call. Only the person receiving the call will say it, and only once. If you answer back with another bueno, things will go all weird. Go ahead and try it!
So when you’re calling to book a bed in that cute little hostel in downtown San Miguel de Allende, and you hear a bueno from the receptionist, you’ll know exactly what to make of that.
A time-based Mexican Spanish expression that depends entirely on the context and the speaker, ahorita is supposed to express immediacy, but we tend to use it as a temporal wildcard that could be referring to any amount of time between the next few seconds and the next few…let’s say minutes.
It’s a good one to throw at your travel partner when he impatiently asks when you’ll be ready to go out and hit the bars in Mexico City…and you haven’t even taken a shower yet!
Our short, simple, and effective Mexican Spanish way to say “be careful.” We use it in situations where immediate action and quick reflexes are required, like when you’re about to step in dog poop, or when you cross the street thinking those cars are going to stop simply because you’re using a crosswalk.
Don’t get confused if your waiter says “aguas” when handing you a delicious, steaming hot café de olla on a chilly morning in the mountain city of Taxco. They have not brought you the wrong beverage (aguas literally translates to “water”) — she’s just trying to save you from burning your tongue.
This Mexican Spanish saying is a tricky one. It’s normally used to express agreement, but depending on the tone and context it can also mean “hurry up,” “that’s amazing,” “let’s go,” “I wasn’t expecting that,” “it’s alright,” “come on,” “please,” “sounds like a plan,” “watch it,” or simply “yes.” Practice makes perfect, but remember we also abbreviate this expression to ora, which is also an abbreviation of ahora (“now”), and that there’s always ándale…which is mostly the same, but a little different.
Ready to run up the steps of Teotihuacán‘s Pyramid of the Sun? Órale!
If your Mexican buddies start calling you güey, that’s probably a good sign. It means they consider you a friend, and you can refer to them in the same way. This is another confusing term that most of the time can be interpreted as “dude,” but can also mean “some guy” (un güey), “your boyfriend” (tu güey), or “you’re really stupid” (estás bien güey). Be careful not to confuse “estás bien güey” with “¿estás bien, güey?” (“are you alright, dude?”).
In Northern Mexico, güey is normally replaced with vato (“dude”), primo (“cousin”), or compa (for the sake of simplicity, let’s just say this one means “dude” again).
A short version of con permiso (“excuse me”) that’s used exclusively to make your presence known to the people around you while you maneuver through tight spaces, comper is especially useful at festivals and markets where phrases like comper, ahí va el diablo (“excuse me, the devil’s coming through”) are ubiquitous.
El diablo in this context is not the Lord of Darkness, but the dolly used to transport goods in Mexican markets. And there are a lot of incredible markets in Mexico.
8. Provecho / provechito
Some people translate this common Mexican saying as “Enjoy your meal,” but this doesn’t seem completely accurate. Provecho is a strange greeting we use to acknowledge people who are about to eat, are already eating, or have just finished their meal. It’s not uncommon to say provecho to complete strangers, especially to every complete stranger you make eye contact with on your way out of that restaurant in Oaxaca where you just ate the best mole poblano of your life.
Provechito is just a cute way of saying provecho.
9. ¿Qué onda?
One of our favourite Mexican Spanish greetings, qué onda (literally “what a wave”) is the exact equivalent of “What’s up?” The wave can easily be substituted by a fart (qué pedo), a fraud (qué transa), a mushroom (qué hongo), or a roll (qué rollo) without altering its meaning.
10. Chido / chilo / chingón
These Mexican Spanish phrases are easy ones. They all express that something’s good. Simple as that. Chingón is the best of the three, but it denotes so much awesomeness that some people consider it extremely rude. Chido and chilo are the mild and socially acceptable versions, but still pretty awesome. Chido is used in Central Mexico, while chilo is mostly used in the northern states and is pronounced “shilo.”
11. Bien padre
Padre means “cool” (as well as “father,” obviously). If you want to say that something’s really cool, you can say está bien padre (“this is really father”) or está padrísimo (“this is super father”). Some other expressions used to say that something’s cool include está de pelos (“this is hairy”) and está con madre (“this is with mother”).
Literally meaning “camera” or “chamber,” this is a common Mexican Spanish term is used to show agreement. More adventurous speakers can substitute it for camarón (“shrimp”). As in: “We should hit the beach at Playa del Carmen after we check out the Maya ruins in Tulum. Camarón!”
13. El mal del puerco
“The evil of pork” is the common state of drowsiness that overtakes your body after a copious meal. The evilness resides in its ability to dominate a person’s will completely, forcing its victims to take a nap, or coyotito (“a little coyote”), despite previous plans.
Looks like a simple “thank you,” doesn’t it? You’ll eventually notice we use this word in contexts that don’t sound logical at all, like when we’re refusing the offers of street vendors or dealing with those bank employees that insist on providing us with an extra credit card. We’re not really thankful for their effort, we’re just saying, “No, I don’t want that.” Think about it as a “no, thank you” without the “no.”
A version of this article was previously published on October 21, 2015, and was updated on February 25, 2022.