How Not to Be the Ugly Gringo

August 22, 2012

I often get asked the question, “Sid, do I have to learn to speak Spanish to live at Lake Chapala?
My answer is always something like,”No, but you will want to learn some and it’s not that difficult.”
I then proceed to tell them that I can teach them several thousand words in Spanish in less than 5 minutes.
I get a laugh or a very puzzled laugh, but then I do what I promised. No, I will not teach you all those words now, but here’s a hint. You already know all these words because they’re the same words in English and in Spanish. You just need to learn to pronounce them using the vowel sounds of Spanish.
So, now let me tell you how not to be the Ugly Gringo.
NO, it’s not about your personal appearance. But, if you use what you’re about to learn it will improve the way you feel and perhaps even how you look, because we all look better with a smile.
OK, it does involve learning just a tiny bit of Spanish, but equally as important as learning a few basic phrases is using them frequently each time an opportunity presents itself.
I speak passable Spanish, but it’s really not a necessity here at Lake Chapala as many of the shop keepers, hotels and professional people usually speak good to great English (Yes ladies even the hair dressers).
I strongly believe that you should make the effort to learn at least some basics of Spanish.
Note, speaking loudly in English doesn't help them to understand, really !
Learn all the polite phrases. Learn how to say, Good day “Buenos dias”, good afternoon “Buenos tardes” and Thank You “Gracias” for example.
Other useful words/phrases include, Habla Inglis ? (Do you speak English?), Como esta? (How are you?) La quenta por favor. (The check please) and the ever popular (Where’s the bathroom, please?) Donde esta el bano, por favor?
On line translator sites can help you learn many more. Print the phrases out and cut and paste them on 3 x 5 inch index cards and place in pocket or purse for easy reference.
The index card trick also works well for other basic translations like at the gas station, grocery store etc.
At first, remember to keep it simple.
Follow these few simple steps and you will be rewarded with broad smiles and will seem to be very polite, which in Mexico is a sign of “good breeding”. Mexican people are almost always very, very polite… especially to anyone older than they are which includes me.
Just remember the good manners your Mom taught you and use them every time you have the opportunity. “Please, Thank you and when needed, I’m sorry. “lo siento” will keep you from being the Ugly Gringo.
Now since you've been good students I have a treat for you. Enjoy this short video about Lake Chapala.

So, “Gracias a todos. Siempre tu amigo” (Thanks everyone. Always your friend)


  • Arlene Cooney

    What a fantastic video Sid!

  • Sid Grosvenor

    Thanks Arlene, I’m always on the lookout for videos that show off our area well.

    Tu amigo, Sid

  • Mary Jacobs

    Sid, You are so right. Expats forget that we are guests in Mexico. We should treat our hosts with the dignity that they deserve. There is such a love of life here and the people are so friendly and helpful. My husband and I have been here 6 months. Today we got our FM3 and we are very happy here. We plan to stay forever. I can’t imagine living in the US again with the racism, hatred and high prices. This really is paradise.

  • Yvonne

    Love this new video!  Thanks for sharing it with us.
    Your friend,

  • Sid Grosvenor

     HI Yvonne, Thanks for your comment. I can only take credit for finding it on You Tube and thinking like you tat it was worth sharing, Tu amigo, Sid

  • Mark

    Muchas gracias por el video y la informacion.  Cuidate bien.

  • Sid Grosvenor

     Hi Mary, Thanks for your nice words on the article. I’ve been here over 10 years full time and I still feel the same way as you. Tu amigo, Sid

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