[#025] Estás al horno

Today I bring you a new expression that I have recently come across in an Argentine advertisement. The product that is being advertised is a “flan“, which is a dessert similar to a custard. And the expression used in this ad is “estar al horno está bueno“. Here’s the video:

This kind of dessert is very common in the River Plate area. You can have it with dulce de leche (remember?), with cream, or with both of them (and that’s called “flan mixto“). Yummy!

So this is the text from the video:

    ¿Vacaciones con tus suegros? ¡Descanso para tu billetera! Estar al horno está bueno. Te lo dice el flan casero Sancor, que ya estuvo ahí, para que vos disfrutes el verdadero sabor casero y mucho más.

And here is a quick translation:

    Going on holiday with your parents-in-law? Your wallet will get a break! “Being in the oven” is good. The home-made flan Sancor tells you so, as it has already been there, so that you can enjoy the real home-made flavour and much more.

Side note: Remember when we talked about the aspiration of the letter “s” on a previous entry? In these four sentences, there are seven instances of that kind of aspiration. Can you spot them?

Alright, but what does “being in the oven” mean then? Well, if we are talking about a cake, for instance, of course it can be literally inside an oven. But in a figurative sense, when someone “está en el horno” or “está al horno“, it means that they are in trouble or have to deal with a difficult situation.

In this particular case, it is assumed that spending your holiday with your partner’s parents can be tough. But the silver lining seems to be that they will be paying for certain things, so you won’t have to spend so much money in the end: your wallet will get a rest. That’s why being in trouble can be good, or “estar al horno ESTÁ BUENO“. And since this product has already been (literally) inside an oven, it can say first-hand that being there is good and, thanks to that, you’ll be savouring a delicious dessert.

These are two pics from the same ad campaign that show other situations where this phrase can be used. Can you guess why someone would “estar en el horno” in such cases?



Apparently, doing the dishes and eating soup have both a bad reputation! But hey, as long as you can eat this flan, it’s alright! Or at least that’s how marketing seems to work.

So next time you are sitting for an exam, paying your bills, or getting late to work, you now know that you can say “¡estoy en el horno!” and feel like a true rioplatófono. 😉

[#020] This is Buenos Aires (I)

Today we’ll keep on learning about the typical culture of rioplatenses, or people from the River Plate area. Well, to be more accurate, we’ll be talking specifically about porteños, i.e. people who live in Buenos Aires.

I’ll share a video that is actually a funny sketch made by a group of young rioplatófonos. The main character here represents a porteño who wants to meet people from other countries and decides to invite foreigners to Buenos Aires, offering them a place to stay and also showing them around the city. Two guys from Great Britain arrive and… Let’s see what happens.

Did you like the video? Did you understand the parts in Spanish? We’ll be working later with some typical expressions of the River Plate area that appear in this video, but for this entry we’ll concentrate on some general cultural aspects first.

The first thing that we should point out is, naturally, the mate. You are already familiar with this typical drink, as we have already talked about it on our previous entry. So I’m sure you knew what Claudio was talking about (and holding in his hand) at the very beginning of the video.

In the second scene, we see Claudio receiving Peter and Willy. Did you notice that he gives them both a kiss on the cheek and also hugs them? Of course you did! Well, he’s overreacting a bit here in a humorous purpose, but that’s just how we roll, haha! In general, rioplatenses (and people from Latin America for that matter) are very warm and affectionate. We show our feelings quite openly. And yes, when rioplatenses greet someone in an everyday situation, we usually kiss that person on the cheek. And it doesn’t matter if the greeting is between a man and a woman, two women or two men. As long as it’s not a formal situation (which usually requires a handshake), we can greet others like this. Even if it’s someone you’ve never met before, like one of your friend’s friends. This may be shocking to some people, but hey, in some other parts of the world, like Québec or France, you normally greet people with two kisses, or sometimes even more! We just give one kiss, so it’s no big deal, right? 😀

Welcome England_

As a result of our open, effusive and friendly nature, we don’t just speak through our mouths, but also through our bodies. You may have already noticed this in Claudio, as he’s moving his hands around virtually all the time as he speaks. We’ve probably inherited this from the big waves of Italian immigrants who came to Buenos Aires during the last century. If you ask rioplatenses about their grandparents, you’ll find out that they were probably from Italy or Spain. But let’s focus on two specific instances of body language right now.

At 1:38, Claudio says “Ustedes tienen lindas mujeres también: Lady Di, las Spice Girls… Jamón del medio“, and then he kisses his fingertips. This expression “jamón del medio” means literally the middle part of the ham, which is regarded as the best/most delicious part. When this expression is applied to people, and women in particular, it means that they are very attractive. And yes, this hand gesture conveys the same idea.

At 4:18, Claudio says “Ok, this is Argentinian… very… food, the posta“, as he tries to explain (to the best of his linguistic skills) that they are about to eat a very traditional Argentinian meal (and the best one, according to him). He doesn’t seem to find a good translation for the word “posta“, though, so he says it in Spanish. In this case, “la posta” means “the absolute best, without question”. What’s more, “posta” can sometimes be translated as “truly” or “really”. For example, when you want to verify if something actually happened or if something is true, you can ask “¿Posta?“, which is equivalent to “¿De verdad?” or “¿En serio?“. And another common expression related to this is “decir la posta“, which means simply “to tell the truth”… Once again, this idea of “the best” or “the truth” can be accompanied by Claudio’s gesture: you make your thumb and index fingertips touch and form a ring, and you move your hand up and down.


Let’s now look at some other cultural points that we can gather from the video. After seeing Claudio, can you think of a common stereotype for porteños? People from Buenos Aires (and all Argentines by extension) are often said to be very arrogant and conceited. This is of course not true for everybody and I’m sure you can find arrogant people everywhere in the world, but I guess that we can see this attitude when Claudio tries to explain to his guests what the subway/underground is, as if they didn’t know already, or when he tells them that “we have the best pretty girls of the world in Argentina”.

Another interesting character in this video is Matilda, Claudio’s mum. She’s characterized as adhering to certain beliefs and values that, in my opinion, are shared by a big group of people of her generation. For example, she tells her daughter that she should have settled down and married a guy described as morally sound, strong and hard-working, regardless of the fact that her daughter thought he was boring and therefore probably wasn’t in love with him. She tells Claudio that he has no love for his country, because he let two Englishmen stay at her place, making a clear reference to the resentment some rioplatenses have towards Great Britain regarding the Malvinas (Falklands) conflict. And she points out the fact that Willy and Peter are gay in a negative manner. Claudio tells her that she should have a more open mind and not be so prejudiced. (Nevertheless, I’d say that in general younger generations don’t share these ideas anymore.)

En mi casa_

Moving on… Did you notice all the references to food on this video? Well, we have already talked about the “la posta” scene. There, these guys are eating choripán (“chorizo” is a kind of sausage, usually made from pork, and “pan” means bread, so “choripán” would be a kind of sausage sandwich), which is part of any genuine asado. In a nutshell, asado consists of different cuts of meat grilled on a parrilla and it serves as an excuse for family or friends to gather, especially during the weekend.

Birra” is a common word that rioplatófonos use to refer to beer in informal contexts, although we can also use the more general word “cerveza“. In this video, Claudio says “birrita” after sharing some choripán with Willy and Peter, and we can see him drink it from a bottle of Quilmes, a very popular beer brand here. And lastly, at 4.00, we can see them buying some garrapiñada, or caramel-coated peanuts.

And the last two points worth-mentioning: tango and baches. Tango is one of the reasons this area is best known for, and in Buenos Aires you can see people dancing tango in San Telmo, a traditional neighbourhood, among other places. At 4:04, you can see someone learning to dance tango in the street. Then, we have the word “bache“, which means “pothole”. You can see one in this video at 3:55. Believe it or not, these “baches” are also part of our culture and you can easily spot one if you walk a lot around Buenos Aires. But don’t worry, when election days are coming closer, our political leaders in power make sure they disappear.


Well, on our next entry we will have a closer look at the Spanish dialogues in this video, as there are some interesting words and expressions that need to be explained. But this is all for now… And probably the longest entry so far!

[#019] Amargo y retruco, carajo

As Halloween is getting closer, some of you may be wondering if rioplatófonos celebrate it too. Well, that’s a tricky question… Today we’ll look at three cultural aspects of the Rive Plate area: a celebration, a traditional beverage and a popular game.

Halloween is not really a traditional celebration around this area. Nevertheless, it has recently become kind of popular and you may spot some children wearing costumes here and there, asking for candy or sweets. Sometimes it’s specially organised by parents in a specific neighbourhood or just along some blocks. Other times it’s a special activity organised by some schools. And then, of course, it also works as an excuse for young people and adults to go out to nightclubs or have parties. But no, it’s not like the whole town gets creepy decorations or anything. Or at least not yet.

Now, as a consequence of this recent “popularization” of Halloween, some people have started to express their discontent saying that we should only stick to our own traditional celebrations, and not adopt others which are not really part of our culture. Have a look at the following picture:


Here we can see two kids celebrating Halloween and saying “¿Dulce o truco?“. Another possible version for “trick or treat” is “truco o trato“, but you will soon see why the words “dulce” and “truco” are specially chosen for this picture. Next to the kids we see a gaucho. For those of you who are not familiar with gauchos, we can briefly say that they are the typical traditional residents of the pampas. You are not likely to come across them in urban areas, but you can see them riding their horses in the countryside. In this picture, this gaucho answers “¡Amargo y retruco, carajo!“, which leads us to the other two things that I want to mention today: the typical drink and game.

First of all, the word “amargo” (“bitter”) refers to what this guy is drinking: mate, a traditional drink in all of the River Plate area, and especially in Uruguay. There’s a whole ritual to it, but in a nutshell, it’s a sort of tea that we have. You can see this gaucho is holding a gourd. That gourd is filled with yerba mate (the actual tea leaves), and then we introduce a “bombilla“, i.e. a straw, which has a special filter on its end. So then we pour hot water into it and take a sip. Voilà! The “real” or true mate is supposed to be bitter, but some people can add sugar to it to make it sweet. A gaucho wouldn’t probably approve of that, though.

Oh, and probably the most important thing: even though you can have it on your own, this is actually a shared drink. Yes, there’s only one straw for it, we know… But no, we don’t care. It’s a group thing and you can always share mate with your family and friends. There’s always a “cebador“, someone in charge of pouring it. This person always tries the first mate. Then he pours a new one and gives it to somebody else. This other person drinks it all up. Then the mate goes back to the cebador, who will pour a new one again, and give it to the next person in the group. The mate is passed on like that until there’s no more water left.


And here’s a good tip: be careful with being polite when having mate. You may feel tempted to say thanks when you receive or have finished a mate, but saying “gracias” when handing it back means that you’ve had enough. So if you say thanks after your first mate, then that’s all you will get!

Then, we have the word “retruco“. This word comes actually from a very popular card game called “Truco“. It’s not exclusive to the River Plate area, but it’s still very common here and everybody knows about it. I will not explain the rules or how to play it here myself, but I will leave a video with information about it anyway for those who want to know more. All I’ll say is that the name of this game comes from a special move that you can make during the game. When a player goes for “truco” (literal translation of “trick”), instead of playing for just 1 point, there are 2 points at stake. If the other player is confident enough and thinks he can win the hand, he can call for “retruco“: 3 points at stake. And if the original player decides to go even further, then there’s “vale cuatro“, which is worth 4 points.

Here’s the video with the guy explaining how to play Truco:

Question: Did you notice whether this guy has a rioplatense accent when he pronounces some Spanish words? There’s one place in particular where you should be able to tell (1:50). When he presents the cards and says their names, he refers to three of them: “sota, caballo y rey“. One of these three words can help you realize if he speaks Spanish like a rioplatófono or not. If you can’t guess what I’m talking about, click here.

Anyway, going back to the original picture of this post… The kids go “¿Dulce o truco?“. They are clearly speaking in the context of Halloween, so “dulce” stands for “sweet treat” and “truco” would refer to a kind of prank or mischief to scare the man if he refuses to give candy. But when the gaucho answers “¡Amargo y retruco, carajo!“, he’s disregarding Halloween and focusing on his traditional culture. When you talk about mate around here, you can say “¿Dulce o amargo?” to ask if the other person likes it bitter or sweet. The gaucho, of course, likes it amargo. And when you spout “truco” here, the first thing that crosses your mind is the card game. That’s why this gaucho answers “retruco“, as if he were raising the bet.

Finally, the gaucho also says “carajo“. We have already talked briefly about this word on our previous entry. So we’ll just say now that it’s an interjection that shows surprise or anger.

Ok, then. You’re now free to go celebrate Halloween and eat candy! Or play Truco online instead, while having some mate amargo. Or maybe both! Why not? 🙂

[#013] Re panchos

A couple of weeks ago, a new friend of mine visited Luján (a small city in the province of Buenos Aires) and took a picture of a fast-food restaurant with an interesting name. Have a look at the photo and pay attention to the sign of the shop.

Re pancho

Any idea of what the meaning behind “RE PANCHOS” could be? If you’ve been reading the previous entries of this blog, you’ll probably remember we’ve already discussed the use of “re“. Now, “pancho” might be a new word to you. We’ll start by saying that it means “hot-dog”. You might have guessed that from the picture, though. But what do these two words mean combined?

If you don’t know/remember the meaning of “re“, you can check it out here, but in a nutshell, we can translate this tiny word as “very” or “really”. It is normally used before adjectives and it works as an intensifier. However, it can also modify nouns and in such cases we cannot, of course, translate it simply as “very”. After all, what would a “very hot-dog” mean, right?

When this particle “re” modifies a noun, it turns the noun into a superlative form. It conveys the idea of a highest/lowest degree or the best/worst quality of something.

    Una re depresión
    The worst depression ever

    Una re fiesta
    The best party ever

    Re panchos
    The best hot-dogs ever

The interesting thing about this use of “re + noun” is that the process of construction of meaning can get very creative. These panchos could be re panchos for several different reasons. Maybe they are super tasty, or maybe they are super large, or maybe you can add lots of different toppings to them. Similarly, if you tell someone that you just got a new job, but not just any ordinary job, sino un re trabajo, that could be a very well-paid job, or maybe a job that requires very little effort or time, or maybe a job that implies doing something special to which not many people have access (like interviewing celebrities or something of the sort). The actual specific meaning will always depend on the context.

  • “Best hot-dogs ever”, then. Is that all?

I’m afraid not. There is more to discuss here, as the word “pancho” can have other meanings, too. In castellano rioplatense, we can also use this word in informal contexts to describe people or animals. Someone described as “pancho” can be “calm”, “relaxed” or even “lazy”; someone who enjoys lying around and doing nothing.

    Estoy re pancho, mirando una peli en la cama.
    I’m very relaxed, watching a movie in bed.

    ¿Tu gato duerme todo el día? ¡Qué pancho!
    Your cat sleeps all day? He’s such a lazybones!

It can also be used to describe someone who doesn’t easily get annoyed or bothered, someone who never gets worried or doesn’t care much about things. So if you know people who never lose their temper, they could be good examples of “panchos“.

    Juan es un pancho. Aunque lo insultes, no te va a responder.
    Juan never loses his temper. Even if you insult him, he won’t answer back.

Another possible use of the word “pancho” is to refer to people who are not very smart or who are so innocent that they can’t read between the lines.

    Es re pancho, no se da cuenta de que querés dejarlo.
    He’s so dumb, he doesn’t realize you want to break up with him.

And last (I promise!) but not least, “Pancho” is also a very common nickname for the name “Francisco” and, well, for lazy pets, too! I once met a dog named Pancha, who (needless to say) was sleeping all the time!

Anyway, as you can see, there are lots of meanings attached to this word. Can you imagine Pancho re pancho comiendo panchos? But going back to the beginning, what do you think the name of the hot-dog place means then? I guess the most evident meaning in this case would be “best hot-dogs ever”, but at the same time it seems to be a good strategy to add this idea of going to this place to chill out and relax while eating something. Just forget about your problems and enjoy your hot-dogs!

Let’s see if you can now spot all these different meanings we’ve discussed in the following set of pictures. I know you can! 😉

[#005] Dulce de leche

This should be reason enough for you guys to devote all of your free time to learning Rioplatense Spanish. And I’m being serious (and biased). Let me introduce you to… ¡el dulce de leche!

Dulce de leche

It is too bad you can’t taste it on the screen, but if you have a sweet tooth, I’m sure you’ll definitely love dulce de leche. This is sometimes translated as “caramel”, but it is not quite that. This is actually sweetened milk. Just milk and sugar, cooked and stirred for a while until it starts getting darker and the water in the milk gets evaporated. That’s roughly the basic procedure for preparing dulce de leche.

It is worth pointing out, though, that this is not only found in the River Plate area. You can eat dulce de leche all over Argentina, and in other countries too, like Chile and Uruguay. But this is anyway something that rioplatófonos generally eat, so here it is. In terms of popularity, I guess we could say that dulce de leche would be the Argentine equivalent to Nutella in many European countries or North America.

And for those of you who might be wondering how we eat dulce de leche, well, you can always eat it by itself. You just grab a (big) spoon, try a bit, say “that’s enough”, try a bit more, and then keep going until it’s all gone. But there is in fact an infinite range of options and you can add dulce de leche to virtually anything. And this is where I stop writing, because we all know that pictures speak louder than words…

Ok, the first step is done: you already know about dulce de leche. Now you’re supposed to come here, give it a try and fall in love! 🙂 What are you waiting for?