For many years, I thought the only significant difference between Spain Spanish and Latin American Spanish was the Spaniards’ preference for the vosotros conjugation of verbs.  In actual fact, there are not only several different Spanish accents (think Irish vs. British vs. American), there are also different languages spoken here, such as Basque and Catalan.

A friend of ours from Valladolid, the birthplace of Castilian Spanish, gave us our first lesson in the Spanish language when she pointed out that people from the Andalucía region have a very different accent from the rest of the country.  This was confirmed during a conversation with a man from Jerez earlier this summer.  He said that the Andalucían accent sounds more like what you would hear in Latin America.  As a matter of fact, most of the Spanish conquistadors came from Andalucía so it really makes sense that Latin American Spanish sounds more Andalucían than Castilian.

In addition to different accents and languages, there are many colloquialisms and slang words that are specific to the different regions of the country.  Misunderstandings can and do occur on many levels.

During our daily pop purchases, as we walked out of the small shops around Madrid we would often hear the shop keepers say, “Salo”.  Neither of us had heard this Spanish word before, but made the assumption that it must be a Spanish colloquialism for “Good-bye” or “See you later”. Naturally, we responded in kind.

We both tried googling our new found Spanish term, but the only match we could find was a small coastal Spanish village called Salou near Tarragona.  We had no luck when we tried various spellings on a Spanish to English dictionary website either.

Fortunately, we have a Spanish connection:  my teacher, Jesús.  When I asked him about the word and what it meant he seemed confused at first.  Then, with a smile, he explained that they were saying, “Hasta luego”, but because the Spaniards talk so quickly, to our untrained ears it sounded like, “Salo”.

Pat and I have both tried to speed up our “Hasta luego”, but it never sounds like “Salo” no matter how fast we try to speak.  When I hear it from a local though, it still sounds like “Salo” to me.


I was buzzed in to Jesús’ apartment at 12:00 on the nose for my weekly Spanish lesson.  He greeted my arrival with, “¿Que tal?  Estas muy punctual.”  To which I simply replied, “Soy Americana”.

It’s true that many Americans place a lot of value on promptness.  I had left our apartment 20 minutes before 12:00 knowing full well that it was no more than a 10 minute walk to Jesús’ place.  But with the narrow streets and my poor map reading skills I wanted to give myself plenty of time for a prompt arrival.

Jesús chatted with me about his perceptions of the American vs. Spanish sense of time.  If an American is chatting with someone and realizes that he needs to be somewhere at a certain time he will point to his watch with a quick explanation of his upcoming destination, wrap up the conversation abruptly and depart post haste.  If the same scenario happens with a Spaniard, the priority is with the current conversation.  The appointment is less important than the social interaction in progress.  Being ten minutes late for an appointment is not really perceived as “late” by a Spaniard.

I am pretty sure Jesús feels that the Spanish approach to time, with its priority focused on social interaction has many more merits than the American way, and I can certainly see his point.  Sadly, I am pretty sure that I cannot undo 37 years of hard-wired American punctuality.