Lee is back for his second article with Speaking Latino. This time he’s sharing from his new book Guatemalan Spanish: Speak Like a Native! Be sure to check it out.”
7 Guatemalan Spanish expressions about work
By Lee Jamison
All work and no play makes Jack—or even Hector—a dull boy! And the same is true in Guatemalan Spanish. Out of the daily grind of making a living have come many of the country’s colorful expressions. I recently published a fresh collection of everyday Spanish terms from the “Land of Eternal Spring” in my book Guatemalan Spanish: Speak like a Native! Here are seven terms that will help you make quick work of Guatemalan Spanish.
This literally means “a big job,” but locally it refers to a person who does poor quality work. And a chambonada is a botched job, or shoddy work.
Esa carretera es una chambonada. Tiene poco tiempo y ya está lleno de baches.
(That highway is nothing but a botched job. They just built it and it’s already filled with potholes.)
This term celebrates the lobbyist in each of us. It used to be that when someone wanted to ingratiate himself with the person in charge, he would walk up to him and admire his chaqueta, or suitcoat, perhaps even caressing the lapels during conversation. The noun became a verb and locally means to butter someone up.
No sé a quién chaqueteó Rolando para tener ese empleo en la Alcaldía.
(I don’t know who Rolando kissed up to in order to get that job at City Hall.)
In rural Guatemala, where many subsist on a dollar a day, these small women’s savings clubs—usually with a dozen or fewer members—play a key role in the local economy. Each person contributes a quota to a common fund and the sum is awarded monthly to a selected member.
Otras fundaciones consideran la pobreza y las necesidades sociales un asunto de cuchubal.
(Other foundations consider poverty and social needs a matter for the local women’s savings clubs.)
4. hacer la campaña
This literally means, “doing the campaign.” Of course, getting elected takes a lot of work. No one could do it without help. So this clever phrase means to do someone a favor.
¿No podés ir a la tienda para comprarme un mango? ¡Porfa, hacéme la campaña!
(Could you please go to the store and buy me a mango? Please! Do me the favor!)
5. necesitar tecomates para nadar
The tecomate is a kind of squash whose hard skin is used to make rustic spoons or drink glasses. If they are not perforated in any way, some people even use them as rudimentary flotation devices. For that reason, necesitar tecomates para nadar has come to mean “a crutch.” Snoopy’s Linus always needed his blanket to feel secure, and in Guatemala having the tecomates along for the swim does the trick!
¿No será racismo asumir que un grupo necesita tecomates para nadar? Las mujeres y los indígenas son mayoría en el país, así que nadie les impide elegir a quienes prefieran.
(Wouldn’t it be racism to suggest that a group needs a crutch? Women and the indigenous are the majority in the country, and no one keeps them from electing whomever they may choose.)
6. papa pelada
Ever peel a stack of potatoes? Your hands and back will be aching! That’s why these days few are willing to do it. They prefer to have everything handed to them on a plate. In Guatemalan Spanish, they prefer to get their potatoes peeled. It’s but a metaphor for a “life of ease.”
Mucha gente quiere la papa pelada y que otro siembre para cosechar nosotros.
(Many people want everything handed to them on a plate. Let others sow so that we can reap.)
7. tener galleta
Remember Popeye? When danger was near, he just scarfed down some spinach, and voilà! Instant strength! Apparently in Guatemala crackers will do the trick. Tener galleta, then, means to be physically strong.
Agregó que a sus 72 años, se siente como de 15, y que todavía tiene galleta para gobernar.
(He added that even at 72 years of age, he feels like 15, and still has the vim and vigor to rule.)
Where to learn more Guatemalan Spanish slang
A great source of Guatemalan Spanish slang can be found in the comments posted online on newspapers such as prensalibre.com and lahora.com.gt. Finally, check out my blog, gringoguide200.com for additional resources.
Check out these other Guatemala Spanish Slang Expressions articles.