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Gringa Guide to Spanish: ¿Americano?

by Amanda La Gringa
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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 speakercome 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.

Lesson for the gringos: You are from the US of A, take some time to memorize these phrases: Soy de Los Estados Unidos or Soy Estadounidense. Gracias!

Lesson for the latinos: Give a gringo a break. If they say it wrong, calmly correct them, but please skip the geography lecture unless you think they really deserve it. Thanks!

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ChocolateGringa July 3, 2012 - 6:54 pm

I think that when latinos get upset about the ‘Soy Americana (o)’ answer it is just because they already have a chip on their shoulder when it comes to Americans. I currently live in Peru and have also lived in DR and Mexico and never ONCE has someone referred to me as ‘estadounidense’….they always call me ‘Americana’. I understand the larger idea that yes, those born in Latin America are also Americans, but widely, in their country and in our own…..persons from the USA are referred to as American@s. The only time I have seen this be a problem is when someone is just trying to start a deeper discussion about their issues with the US. Never have I heard a latino refer to themselves (in spanish) as a South American or a Latin American….it is always either ‘Soy latino’. ‘Soy Hispano’ o Soy *insert nationality here* (dominicano, peruano, etc), so the confusion that they claim really doesn’t exist in my opinion. Ive only seen it become an issue when someone has a political agenda to relay….and I’m not the one…nor do I have time. lol

Great post fellow gringas!!

Bill April 8, 2015 - 5:13 pm

I agree 100% with ChocolateGringa (cool name BTW), I’ve had a very similar experience in Colombia. Most Colombians I know refer to my nationality as “americano”, and even on my Colombian-born daughter’s birth certificate, it lists my nationality as “americano”.

I identify myself as “estadounidense” to avoid offending anyone, but I still get this lecture when I call myself “American” during a conversation in English. This protest of using the English word for my nationality is what frustrates me. And yes, as ChocolateGringa mentioned, the offended always have an axe to grind against the US or Americans in general. Sigh.

Excellent post also. Not sure that “gringo” is always a neutral term though, especially when you consider the other slang expressions that you mentioned. “Hacerse el gringo” basically means to act like an asshole. But in all this is an excellent blog, thanks for posting. 🙂


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