4 Panamanian Phrases That Will Confuse You

February 22, 2011 by:
4 Panamanian Phrases That Will Confuse You

4 Panamanian Phrases That Will Confuse You

Learning Spanish from a university class or Rosetta Stone will only get you so far. The beginner and intermediate lessons only begin to scratch the surface of the language. As you’ll quickly discover, Panamanians speak their own flavor of Spanish. Little phrases and inside jokes have meanings that won’t make sense to you. These will confuse you.

1. Oiste

Oiste is preterite tu form of the verb oir — to hear. Thus, oiste in Spanish translates to “did you hear me?”. It’s a confirmation that the person indeed heard you.

For example: “Hey Miguel, can you grab me that bag of chips, oiste?”

In some Panamanian’s lexicon, however, oiste is a part of the rhythm of speech. It is the English urban slang equivalent to “ya feel me” or “ya know what I’m say’n”. The following is an example of how the use of oiste confused me in a recent conversation.

Miguel: “Vamos a buscar comida, oiste?” (Let’s go look for food. Did you hear me?)

Me: “Yes, I did understand. Ready to go!”

Miguel: “Quiero un batido de guineo, oiste?” (I want a banana smoothie. Did you hear me?)

Me: “Yes, yes, I understand. That sounds delicious!”

Miguel: “Fren, esta viana es lo mejor, oiste?” (Friend, this shit is the best! Did you hear me?)

Me: “Fren, I do speak Spanish. I know I have a heavy Gringo accent, but I understand 100% of what you are telling me. It is not necessary to ask me oiste after every sentence.”

I finally figured it out after he used oiste several times. He was not asking me to confirm that I indeed heard him. Rather, it was just a part of his pattern of speech.


2. Ahora

Spanish 101 teaches you that Ahora = Now. Ahora vamos a la bibloteca (Now we go to the library). Simple. Yet, it is common for people to use Ahora as later.

Ex-girlfriend: “Evan, te llamo ahora.” (Evan, I call you now.)

Me: “You call me… now? But, aren’t we already in a conversation? How will you call me now if we are already talking? I’m confused.”

Ex-girlfriend: “Evan, que te pasa? Te llamo AHORA!” (Evan, what is wrong with you? I call you now!)

Me: “Don’t que te pasa me, missy. Ahora is now. At least how I understand it.”

Ex-girlfriend: “Bueno. Evan, te llamo MAS TARDE, oiste!” (Good. Evan, I’ll call you later.)

Panamanian Spanish guidelines:

English                  Spanish                   Panamanian Spanish
Later                      Mas Tarde               Ahora
Now                       Ahora                        Ahorita
Already                  Ya                              YA! (YA means hurry up! I needed it 10 fucking minutes ago.)


3. Siempre

Again, Spanish 101 teaches you that Siempre = Always. “Siempre es lo mejor” (It’s always the best).

However, in certain situations, it is used to replace the word todavía (still).

Ex-girlfriend: “Te vas al cine siempre?” (Do you go to the cinema always).

Hmmm…. Strange.

Me: “It is true I enjoy the cinema. But, I don’t understand. Are you asking me, ‘Do I always like to go to the movies?’ or ‘I’m always at the movies?’ Like I go to the cinema so much I practically live there, or something?”

Ex-girlfriend: “Evan, que estás hablando? TODAVIA quieres ir al cine?” (Evan, what are you talking about? Do you still want to go to the movies?)

Me: “Now I understand. Do I want to go to the cinema tonight? Well, sure!”


4. Cuanto sale

Sale is the present tense it (he, she or it) form of the verb Salir. Salir = leave or to go out. It is commonly used in terms of going out to party. Like “Tu quieres salir hoy, mi amor?” (Do you want to party tonight, baby?).

It is also used to ask the price of a certain item. It replaces “Cuanto cuesta?” (how much?).

El Señor: “Cuanto sale eso?”

Me: Hmmm…. “Did you just ask, “Cuan-d-o sale eso?” (When does this leave?). “Sorry sir, but this item does not leave the store.”

*** Cuando = When. Cuanto = How.

El Señor: “No, cuan-d-o s-a-l-e eso.” (How much this item goes out at night.)

Hmmm…. Strange.

Me: “Sir, I have no idea what you are saying.”

El Señor: “A ver….” then El Señor explained to me the meaning and context of cuanto sale.

At first, these words and phrases will certainly confuse you. Don’t let it frustrate you. Instead, embrace it, mimic it, love it.Panamanize your vocabulary!

If you combine these examples and sprinkle in some past EyeOnPanama.com helpful Spanish language articles; Spanish Sweet Nothings, Pretend Like You Speak Spanish and some Panamanian Slang terms, you’ll practically be a local! Dale, loco! (Do it, you crazy person!).


Evan Terry Forbes

Evan Forbes 122 post in this blog.

Evan Terry Forbes is an Author, Entrepreneur and Hall of Fame Traveler. He writes entertaining books about how travel has changed his life. In so many beautiful ways. Currently, Evan is traveling with his retired mother for 1 year through Europe and Asia. This book will be called, Travels With My Mother - How Travel Transformed A Mother-Son Relationship. Read his books here.

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13 Comments on "4 Panamanian Phrases That Will Confuse You"

  1. Tweets that mention 4 Panamanian Phrases That Will Confuse You -- Topsy.com on Tue, 22nd Feb 2011 10:05 pm 

    [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by eyeonpanama and eyeonpanama, eyeonpanama. eyeonpanama said: @CoolPanama you might like this article. http://www.eyeonpanama.com/4-panamanian-phrases-that-will-confuse-you/ [...]

  2. perdidogringo on Wed, 23rd Feb 2011 7:57 am 

    Interesting article that any Spanish learner can relate to. And then there is “ahora mismo” to add to the mix..

  3. jon on Wed, 23rd Feb 2011 11:07 am 

    hahaha, sta bien focup a veces. Mauchucan las palabras, hablan to’ desuaniangao

  4. peter on Wed, 23rd Feb 2011 1:07 pm 

    hang on = guinda encima

    hold on= espera encima

    screw up= atornilla arriba

    calm down= calma abajo

    fix up= arrelar arriba

    wait up= espera arriba

    come on= ven encima

    There are things that just cant be explained. Thats why no matter how good the translation is, it will never be the same as the original. Each language or pseudo language in this case, has its own INSANITIES that when translated make no friggin sense. all you can do bro is remember the uses and dont fight it.

  5. Andrea on Mon, 28th Feb 2011 11:19 pm 

    Here’s one that still gets me:

    When they say “Adios!” as a form of saying hello.

    My neighbors walk by the hostel and yell out, “Adios!” as they pass by.

    ??? That never came up in Spanish class!

  6. peter on Mon, 28th Feb 2011 11:31 pm 

    no man, that adios is still goodbye, since youre passing by a hello is not used. They are saying goodbye because youre “in transit”.

  7. MixMasterMike on Mon, 14th Mar 2011 9:33 am 

    Todavia: I had always learned todavia to mean “still” as in, “you are in the bathroom todavia??” however locals in Panama tend to use it to mean “yet” as in, “it’s 11:30, is the lunch restaurant open todavia?”

  8. Willy on Mon, 28th Mar 2011 9:51 pm 

    Jon,hablamos machucao? No, papa, hablamos pintoresco. Ustedes hablan ese castellano viejo y aburrido del siglo 17 que no ha evolucionado, como sucede normalmente con todos los idiomas. Que sopa contigo?

  9. Parking Tickets – Culture – Successful Gringo Part 3 on Tue, 3rd May 2011 6:56 pm 

    [...] new environment.  Stay positive and be creative,  and you’ll be a successful Gringo in Panama, oiste! AKPC_IDS += "5144,";Popularity: 1% [...]

  10. Lisa @chickybus on Sun, 12th Jun 2011 2:33 pm 

    This is a great post–interesting and useful! I’ve been speaking Spanish for years and speak it pretty well…have been to quite a few Latin American countries. I must say, though, that Panamanian Spanish sounds a tiny bit tricky, based on what you’ve described. I suppose one must listen closely and for the context to know what is really being said…

  11. SCW on Sun, 18th Dec 2011 10:18 am 

    You forgot a few of the gems of modern Panamanian slang:

    Que es lo que es?

    Sopa copa?

    Cuestion de la vaina.



  12. cunninglinguist on Fri, 27th Jan 2012 8:04 pm 

    “Oiste” is a linguistic hedge. It is a Panamanian Spanish version of “like” or “you know”.

  13. eden on Fri, 21st Sep 2012 1:33 pm 

    I’d been dating my now husband for months before I had it explained to me about the “Ahora” misunderstanding. I’d get so mad because he’d say “Vamos ahora” and I’d get ready and then WAIT… Now when I need to be clear I ask “Panamanian Ahora, or my Ahora?”

    The other one that got me was “cuestion” used as “thing-a-ma-bob”. My mother-in-law uses it all the time, and between that and her thick Chiriqui accent, I was at a loss as to know what the Question was.

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