I Swear To You

The year my husband and I lived in Santiago, Chile, we rubbed elbows with locals who sought to amaze us with their English mastery. Evan and I would walk hand in hand through a park and a young man would bellow, “F$%#!” a couple of times. His friends would whistle and clap with delight. He’d give a broad smile and launch his Groucho Marx hubba-hubba eyebrows at us, like Cool, huh? I know English!  I discovered although I’m not opposed to swearing, it was intimidating and a little scary to hear the f-bomb performed unexpectedly in a throaty yell. In the US, someone would curse like that if they were really mad, really drunk, a bit unstable…or trying to impress their teenage friends (all of the above). In Chile, the last one seemed to apply. Truthfully, I was swearing similarly in Spanish when studied in España at 20 years old. Ah, the Circle of Life!

Sneak peek from my book Supergringa in Spain: A Travel Memoir:

My junior year of high school I decided I was a feminist. Feminists could swear like sailors if they wanted. Well, not in front of my dad. In Minneapolis, I began cursing in Spanish to get around the ladylike confines of my vocabulary. Words I would avoid in English, I’d relish in Spanish: mierd@, ching*%$ (sh#t, F*%$). Ah, my secret language; me and 400 million people in Latin America in 1985. But who’s counting? I began to swear in Spanish every time I tripped, spilled my beverage, or got mad at my sister. I was very busy practicing Spanish. I tend to bump into things a lot.

I arrived in Spain with my obscure expressions. My classmates from Argentina, Colombia, Chile, Peru, Mexico, Puerto Rico, and the Dominican Republic were not amused with my palabrotas in the hall. I tripped and dropped my pen. “¡Mierd@!” flew out of my mouth before I gave it a thought. Our stern Argentino was there to correct me, “Una señorita no habla así.” A young lady does not speak that way. From him, it seemed a sexist comment. It was a sexist comment. So I ignored him.

Later in the second week, I swore again. This time I thought I was in safe company, with my South American women friends. They’d see the humor and jauntiness I wished to express. Juliana tsked. “No, Rebecca,” she said. “Una señorita no habla así.” I looked to Flor for backup. She shook her head. All that Spanish practice and no one to listen. My friend in the staff was the fourth to confirm a Señorita with a potty mouth was going nowhere fast. I started to get the idea, when in Toledo… For a week I practiced substituting, “Caramba” (My gosh) and “Dios mío” (my God) for the more salacious words. I felt limited, like a right had been taken away from me. But I was a visitor in this land, and a Señorita.

Then, when I said what I thought was a simple, “I promise you it’s true,” Juliana told me my oath was too harsh. Really, I’m not making this up! ¡Te lo juro! ¡I swear to you! ; ) Oops, I’ve done it again.

Maybe I wasn’t cut out to be a Señorita…

Hope you enjoyed the excerpt. Funny how the swearing sounded more startling coming toward me in my native tongue in Santiago. Now I can understand why my amigas cringed when I practiced my Spanish curses in Toledo!

This summer, I am looking for a literary agent for my memoir, gardening, blogging, reading and swimming. What are you up to? Is it nearly summer or winter where you live? Please leave your comments below.

Gracias for reading Fake Flamenco. Olé! –Rebecca

Caballero de la mano en el pecho (Nobleman with his Hand on his Chest), El Greco c. 1580   Credit: Prado Museum


Rebecca Cuningham

25 thoughts on “I Swear To You

  1. Hi there! This was great- totally enjoyed this story. I hope you hear back soon on your book!
    Love, Aunt Lois

    Sent from my iPhone

    Liked by 1 person

  2. When in Mexico, I never did learn how to say “one needs to have legs like a goat to climb this pyramid” without being offensive.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. It’s hot as Hades here in North Carolina where I’m visiting family. I miss the cool mountain breezes back in the northern Colombian Andes, despite it being rainy season there now. Enjoyed your post and look forward to the book! All the best!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes the southern US is Hot by the end of May. What part of NC? Thanks for your comments about the book. Fingers crossed this is the year it comes out in print! -Rebecca


    1. Thanks for your comment. Our ear for meaning really changes in a second language in terms of swearing. For me, raising a child has diminished my cursing a great deal in both laguages! -Rebecca

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Great post. My fiance is Argentine and I once heard her rattle off a list of expletives after a bad experience with a cab driver in Buenos Aires. Even though she had every right to be upset, she was so embarrassed that I witnessed the scene. Being from New York, I’m used to it but I also minimize the amount of profanity that I sometimes use.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks for your comment, Gerard. Interesting experience in Argentina. Seems that culturally your fiance felt uncomfortable about swearing but the cab driver made her mad enough to break that barrier. I can relate. Saludos! Rebecca


    2. I found Argentine’s to be some of the most poetic and expressive swear-ers in South America. And I admired how resilient their women were to it. As a gringa I would cringe at expletive “piropos” but my Argentine women friends were fierce right back. It was awesome.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Great post. My fiance is Argentine and I once heard her rattle off a list of expletives after a bad experience with a cab driver in Buenos Aires. She had every right to be upset but was so embarrassed that I heard her use that type of language. Being from NYC, I’m used to it but it pushed me to make a better effort to minimize the profanity that I use on occasion.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hola, thanks for your comments. That’s cool that you are so considerate about how you express yourself in a culturally sensitive way. Best wishes and congratulations on your upcoming wedding! -Rebecca


  6. Depending on the Latin American country, swear words are either widely used or frowned upon. And each country tends to use their own swear words. M..da is very commonly used in Spain, but not in Latin America for instance. And there are many other examples.
    Buen fin.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Yes, the variation is so interesting. In Latin America I heard miércales a lot (like saying “shoot” rather than the expletive) But in this case it’s a pun on the word for Wednesday. -Rebecca

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I admit I have used Spanish and my 25 words of French in Paris and when watching French films. They are similar enough to share the roots of verbs. But the French spelling could take a lifetime to learn. Mon dieu! ; ) Rebecca

        Liked by 1 person

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