Updated: Mar 23, 2022
Take a look at how people in Mexico and Peru really say these five expressions so you can start speaking Spanish more naturally.
It’s time to change up your Spanish and start speaking more like a native.
That means learning some expressions that people in Mexico and Peru use when talking with their friends, family, and coworkers.
1. What’s up?
¿Qué onda? (Mexico 🇲🇽) | ¿Qué tal, huevón? (Peru 🇵🇪)
¿Qué onda? literally means, "What vibes?" It's just a fun way of asking what's up to your Mexican friends. Onda is a vibrational wave, so a vibe.
¿Qué tal? is used in a lot of Spanish-speaking countries, including Spain. There's no direct translation. It's a basic expression to memorize. Don't overthink its meaning, just remember the context that it's used in.
In fact, tal is a word that can't be translated into English. It's used in a lot of phrases, including tal vez (perhaps), tal cual (as is), and many others explained here.
You can use ¿qué tal? with or without the huevón. In Peru, huevón is used as a good or a bad thing.
If you're talking with your friend, he's a huevón, meaning buddy.
But if you're talking about a person you don't like, you'd call him a huevón and her a huevóna. You're basically calling them an asshole or bitch.
Don't use huevón in Mexico the same way. There it means a lazy person.
¿Mandé? (Mexico 🇲🇽) | ¿Cómo? (Peru 🇵🇪)
When talking with Mexicans, if you didn't hear what someone said, you'd ask them, ¿Mandé? It basically means, "What?" or "Excuse me?"
Mandé is the declarative second person (usted) form of mandar, which means to command or to order. Basically, you're asking, "You command?" formally.
However, it's not used just in formal situations. It's used by anyone at any time regardless of age or status.
This is again one of those things you can't overthink. You just have to memorize and use it.
But in Peru, you'd say, "¿Cómo?" Sometimes you hear it asked twice, like "¿Cómo, cómo?" but said quickly without a pause.
You're basically asking in Peru, "How's that?" You'll also hear people in Peru say, "que?," meaning "what?" or "de qué hablas?," meaning "what are you talking about?"
3. That’s cool, dude
Qué padre, güey (Mexico 🇲🇽) | Qué paja, broder (Peru 🇵🇪)
Qué padre, güey literally translates to "What father, dude." Make sense, right? I'm kidding.
Padre in this sense is slang for cool, great, or wonderful. This is yet another one of those things you can't just translate, you have to understand the context and use it like a Mexican.
You'll hear güey used a lot among Mexican guys. You can hear it for yourself in Netflix's comedy Club de Cuervos.
One of the main characters, Chava, overuses it trying to sound cooler than he really is with the football players for his family's soccer team.
Güey used to mean an ox or a slow-witted person. But through time it just came to mean dude or guy.
"Qué paja, broder" in Peru is used by what seems like every dude there. Broder is the Spanglish form of brother. Paja means cool.
You can also use paja in the superlative, "pajísimo," which means super cool or epic.
No manches (Mexico 🇲🇽) | ¿Joda? (Peru 🇵🇪)
No manches in Mexico is used a lot. The verb manchar means to stain, so no manches literally means "don't stain" in the declarative form.
Again, don't translate it directly. Just think of it like, "No way!" or "seriously?" or "you've gotta be kidding me" when something happens that you don't like or didn't expect.
In Peru, ¿joda? is a slang way of asking, "seriously?" or "are you messing with me?" It comes from the verb joder, which means to fuck. So you're literally asking, "You fuck?"
You can turn it into "no me jodas" to tell someone to fuck off, either jokingly or seriously.
5. That’s too bad
Qué mala onda (Mexico 🇲🇽) | Uy, pucha (Peru 🇵🇪)
With the expression "Qué mala onda" we're back to the start with that word onda again, meaning vibe. So "Qué mala onda" literally means "what a bad vibe."
Just like in English you say whether a person has a good or bad vibe, as in "Tiene buena onda" or "Tiene mala onda."
In Peru, "Uy, pucha" is used among friends to express their empathy about something bad that happened to one of them. It means something like, "Oh, shoot" or "Oh, jeez."
Uy is an interjection. There's not a real direct interjection we use in English. You could think of it like oh or uh.
Pucha, like everything else you learned here, doesn't have a direct translation. It may be a corrupted form of "puta," or whore.
When it comes to slang, you'll hear Peruvians, especially young guys, boast about how much slang Peruvian Spanish has.
But to tell you the truth, Mexico has just as much, if not even more. Don't tell a Peruvian that, though. 😉
If you're ready to take your Spanish to the next level and speak more naturally, join my private Facebook group Conversando en español.
Jackie Donaldson is the founder and director of Amidon Studios Language Studies. She started Amidon Studios in 2017 after managing a language institute in Lima, Peru for six years. She's taught students from all over the world while living in Peru, Mexico, and the U.S. When she's not working or studying, you'll find her gardening, playing with her cat Frankie, swimming, baking, and exploring the globe.