Today, I will talk about 7 mistakes that Gringos or native English speakers make when speaking Spanish. This article will help you avoid these mistakes when speaking Spanish. I have a friend from Nueva York (New York) who is staying with me here in Medellín while he looks for a place to live. He came here to Medellín to study Spanish. He is going to be taking classes at a local university. He arrived about a week ago and he has made of ton of mistakes while speaking Spanish. Most of them are common gringo errors. So let me tell you about his mistakes so that you avoid them.

Tom (not his real name) and I went to an Italian restaurant Saturday night to eat. And just by coincidence, the owner is a guy from the Bronx from what used to be an Italian neighborhood, not very far from where I once lived in the Bronx.

When the “mesero” or waiter took our orders I requested my favorite “entrada” or appetizer:

Berenjena parmesana (eggplant parmesan)

That’s when Tom made his first mistake. Tom asked for “un vaso de vino.” You do NOT call a wine glass a “vaso.” “Vaso” does mean drinking glass, but you have to use the word “copa” when referring to a wine glass. For example:

Me regala una copa de vino.
May I have a glass of wine.

And the second mistake that Tom made also involved the wine. It is a common mistake for English speakers to literally translate English words and phrases when speaking Spanish. So it did not surprise me when Tom asked for “vino rojo.” But that’s not how to say “red wine” in Spanish. The phrase is “vino tinto” (red wine).

Tom then made a third mistake. Well, it wasn’t actually a mistake. Tom is also from the Bronx. And New York born Puerto Ricans and Dominicans speak Spanish that is lot more informal than the Spanish of Colombia. So that’s the type of Spanish Tom is used to hearing.

And when Tom dropped his knife and fork which were wrapped in a “servilleta” (napkin) in order to get the waiter’s attention Tom shouted “¡Mira!” “¡Mira!”

When that didn’t get the attention of the “mesero” or waiter, Tom then shouted “¡Oye!” “¡Oye!”

In the Bronx or some Spanish-speaking parts of Nueva York, you may get someone’s attention by yelling “¡Mira!” or “¡Oye!” but not in Colombia. In Colombia, yelling “¡Mira!” or “¡Oye!” “¡Oiga!” to get the attention of the “mesero” is considered “maleducado.” By the way “maleducado” does NOT mean what you think it means. “Maleducado” is an “amigo falso” (false friend). “False friends” or “amigos falsos” are Spanish words that are pronounced and spelled a lot like English words but have very different meanings.

“Maleducado” does not mean poorly educated or that one has a bad education. “Maleducado” means discourteous. So what is the proper way to get someone’s attention in Latin America?

In Latin America, in order to get the attention of someone, you should say “Perdón” or “Disculpe.” But most Colombians would simply say “señor” or “señora” in order to get someone’s attention. And in Tom’s case if the waiter (or waitress) happened to be younger than him, words such as “muchacho” or “chico” or “niña” are all acceptable in Colombia.

Finally, Tom did get the waiter’s attention by yelling “¡Oye!” And when the waiter approached our table Tom told him:

Se me cayeron las cubiertas.

Tom actually surprised me with that phrase. His grammar was perfect. But his choice of vocabulary had another common gringo error, which now made 4 errors for Tom.

“Los cubiertos” are eating utensils. But “las cubiertas” means “the tops” or “the covers.” So Tom should have said:

Se me cayeron los cubiertos.
My eating utensils fell.

Since Tom used the wrong vocabulary words the waiter didn’t understand him and asked Tom “Cómo?”
And Tom responded and committed a FIFTH mistake:

Se me cayó la cuchilla.

“Cuchillo” means knife in Spanish. But “cuchilla” means razor blade. But the waiter apparently understood Tom because he returned with a “servilleta” (napkin), “tenedor” (fork), “cuchara” (spoon), and “cuchillo” (knife) — instead of a “cuchilla” or razor blade for Tom to shave.

After we finished eating our meals Tom made mistake number 6. He said to me in Spanish:

Déjame pagar el cuento.

Tom gave me a very puzzled look when I responded by saying “Why? Is the waiter going to tell us a fairy tale?”

“Cuenta” means bill or account or restaurant check. But “cuento” means story or fairy tale. So Tom should have said:

Déjame pagar la cuenta.
Let me pay the bill.

As we were leaving, Tom made a seventh and final Gringo mistake. There was a couple waiting for a taxi and blocking the restaurant’s entrance, and this time he said “Perdón”

The couple did not move but looked at Tom as if he was trying to get their attention. That’s when I said “permiso” which is the correct way to say excuse me when you are trying to pass and someone is blocking your way. You can either say “permiso” or “con permiso.”

So I hope that by learning about Tom’s 7 mistakes this will help you to avoid making these same Gringo errors when speaking Spanish.