Lesson 11: Saying you’re from the USA in Spanish
Just in time for the 4th of July, the Gringa Guide to Spanish is here to clear up an issue I’ve been been hearing complaints about ever since my first trip to Latin America in 2006. This is a lesson not just for the gringos who need to get their terminology right, but also for the latinos out there who always complain about it. So, gringos: listen up, this lesson will save you some headaches and Latinos: please read this so you can understand why this happens.
Ok, so here is the scenario I’ve heard too many times:
Spanish-speaker asks: ¿De donde eres?
English-speaker who is learning Spanish responds: Soy americano or Soy de America
Spanish-speakers freaks out and gives the gringo a lecture on the difference between “The Americas” and “USA”
English-speakers: Stares blankly confused and embarrassed
There is a very rational and reasonable explanation as to why this happens…and NO, it’s not because everyone thinks that the USA is the only country in the Americas. First, take a look at the translations:
United States of America = Los Estados Unidos
American = Estadounidense
It comes down to a very simple explanation: Americano is a whole lot easier to say in Spanish then Estadounidense for a beginner Spanish speaker – come on, try it for yourself. It is almost an exact cognate to the word in English, just add an “o” and bam! You’re in business! Sadly…it’s not that easy.
The same thing happens when saying they are from America. While, yes this is VERY wrong and insinuates that gringos think that the USA makes up the whole of America- again, it most likely just a misunderstanding.