In this series of articles I call, Spanish Lessons from YouTube Videos, I take a video, typically something made by and for native speakers (not a Spanish lesson), and then use it to teach you a bit of the Spanish they use (words, phrases, expressions, grammar, syntax). At the end of this post, for the first time ever, I’ve put a short (5 questions) quiz to help you remember what you just learned. I can, of course, only cover a bit of the Spanish used in the space we have here (and you don’t want to spend 6 hours reading a 53-page long blog post dissecting every single thing they said), so you learn in manageable chunks that will only take you about 5-15 minutes, and I get to keep my sanity by not having to write a short novel. However, please note that you can always click the “CC” (“closed-captions”) button in the bottom right of the video player to turn on the Spanish subtitles (if they’re not Spanish click the gear icon next to the “CC” button to change settings) and continue learning on your own. Let’s get started.
Today’s video is from one of my favorite YouTubers, Mariebelle, a Mexican who married a German and now lives in Germany. She makes videos about her experiences in Germany and all the various, interesting cultural characteristics of the country that she observes. In this video she talks about some of the “rules of behavior” (“reglas de comportamiento”) in Germany. I’m going to embed it below but if you’d simply like to have it open in another tab, here’s the link to it.
No Meter la Pata
Let’s start with one of the first things she says which is a common colloquial expression in all Spanish dialects, so it’s really worth learning: “no meter la pata”. In this context, “pata” literally means “leg of an animal” (the word pierna is used to refer to the leg of a person), and the verb, meter, means “to put or insert”, so literally it means “to not insert the leg”. What it actually means in modern speech is, “don’t screw up”. Here’s the context in which it’s used in the video:
…algunas reglas de comportamiento que son bien vistos por los alemanes que creo que pueden ser interesantes para ustedes, sobre todo si tratan con personas alemanas, para no meter la pata…
What this translates to is:
…some rules of behavior that are well-regarded by the Germans that I believe could be interesting for you all, especially if you deal with German people, in order to not make any mistakes…
To help you remember it, and because I know a lot of people just enjoy learning about this type of stuff, I’ve just finished researching the etymology of this expression, and boy are you all in for some fun. Feel free to skip to the next phrase below (“dar la mano”) if you prefer.
There are 3 possible explanations, none of which appear to have much in the way of credible, original documents to support them:
- It refers to when an animal puts its leg in a trap set by a hunter and becomes trapped so that it can later be killed by the hunter when he returns.
- It comes from an ancient expression, no longer in use: “no mentar a Pateta”. Mentar is a verb that means, “to mention”, and is hardly ever used any more (first time I’ve encountered it), and Pateta is an ancient name for the devil, so what it’s literally saying is, “don’t mention the devil”. This became contorted, misconstrued, over time in daily speech to the more commonly understood, “no meter la pata”. You see this same phenomenon in English where people hear phrases and mistake certain words for others that sound very similar and with which they’re more familiar, e.g. the famous “France is Bacon” incident, and “for all intensive purposes” instead of, “for all intents and purposes”. Here are some more examples in English if you’re interested.
- In the 14th and 15th century in Spain, “pata” could refer simply to the foot of a person (instead of the leg of an animal, as it does now), and they also had these devices known in English as “chamber pots” because, of course, there was no indoor plumbing and if you had to urinate or defecate in the middle of the night, you wouldn’t want to have to leave the house and walk all the way to the outhouse to do it. If you got out of bed in the middle of the night and weren’t careful of where you stepped, you might literally put your foot in a puddle of your own urine and feces, hence “meter la pata” meaning, “to screw up”.
Sources for the above:
- ¿Cuál es el origen de la expresión ‘meter la pata’? – 20 Minutos
- ¿Cuándo y cómo se originó la expresión “meter la pata”? – Stackexchange
Right, well that was fun. Moving on…
Dar la Mano
This literally means “to give the hand” and it’s how they say, “to shake hands” in Spanish. The phrase as you hear it used here around 1:11 is:
Es que saludas a la otra persona dandole la mano.
Which translates to:
It’s that you greet the other person by shaking their hand
Literally she says, “[it] is that you greet the other person giving them the hand”. “Dando” is the Spanish gerund of “dar” – the gerund is what is colloquially known in English as “the -ing form”, e.g. running, singing, sleeping, etc. The “le” that you see tacked onto the end of “dando” here such that it reads, dandole, is the indirect personal pronoun that can mean either “him”, “her”, or “them” (I would translate it as “them” in this case as that seems to be her intent, she’s not specifying anyone in particular). The reason it’s indirect is because what you’re giving them, the direct object, is “la mano”, the hand, and so the person it’s being given to is the indirect object in that the action is being directly performed on the hand and indirectly performed on the person it is given to. Make sense? Check out this article on direct vs. indirect object pronouns in Spanish if you need more help.
This is a super Mexican expression, it’s very popular in Mexico and if you’re interested in learning Mexican Spanish in particular you’ll want to learn it.
You hear Mariebelle use it around 3:24 when she says:
Ya después de varios años que estoy viviendo aquí, yo sí he llegado a verlo de varias personas que llegan y les hablan de “tú” a la otra persona y yo, como que me quedo “¡Que onda!”, ¿no? Se me hace super super raro eso…
The whole translation of all that being:
Already after living here several years, I’ve seen it from various people that come and refer to you informally with the other person, and I’m like, “What the hell?!”, right? It’s super weird to me…
For clarification she’s talking about somebody speaking about you with another person and referring to you with the informal personal pronoun, “tú”.
Now, “qué onda” literally means “what [a] wave!”, where “wave” here means something more like “vibe” in English, it’s talking about the “vibes” you’re getting from a particular person or situation. It’s also commonly used as a greeting, similar to, “what’s up?” in English, probably coming from the meaning of “what’s vibing here?” or “how’s the vibe here?”.
This is the manner in which one says, “to be accustomed to” in Spanish. Note that this is simpler than how we say it in English – they only need two words to get the job done (“acostumbrar a”) whereas we need a minimum of three (“is/are accustomed to”). Let’s look at the context from the video where she uses this expression. It occurs at around 5:11:
Los alemanes, al contestar el teléfono, o al hablarle por teléfono a otra persona, acostumbran a saludar de una manera muy distinta…
This translates to:
The Germans, upon answer the telephone, or talking on the phone with another person, are accustomed to greeting [them] in a very distinct manner…
Yes, you can also say it in a manner more similar to that of English by saying instead, “estar acostumbrado a” – this literally means, “to be accustomed to”. Many English speakers tend to do this because it’s more natural to them to phrase it like this, which is fine if you prefer as it’s also a very common way that native speakers will say it, though not in this example (from the video).
Added note: There’s a very slight distinction in meaning between acostumbrar, when used as a transitive verb as it is here, and the pronominal version of the verb, acostumbrarse, and that is that the mere acostumbrar means that one is accustomed to something, whereas the pronominal acostumbrarse means that one becomes accustomed to something (very minor distinction but it is a distinction). This is per the RAE’s definitions of the word (look at definitions #2 and #3, ignore #1, that’s for something else entirely). To be fair, I suspect most native Spanish speakers aren’t even aware of the slight difference in usage and simply tend to use one or the other to mean either definition and you just have to discern which they mean from the context.
This is just a cute little informal way of saying, “the chat” or “the conversation”. It comes from the verb, platicar, which is an informal way of saying, “to chat”. Its use here occurs at 6:26 when she says:
…entonces, ya empieza la plática.
…then, now the chat starts.
This is a very common expression throughout the Spanish-speaking world (common in all such countries) that means, literally, “it costs me”, but often does not refer to money. It can refer to money, e.g. “Me costó tres cientos pesos” (“It cost me three hundred pesos”), however it’s more often used to mean that something costs somebody effort. We would typically express this via expressions such as, “I find it difficult to”, “I find it hard to”, “I have trouble…”, or “It’s draining to have to…”. Let’s look at how she uses it in the video:
Suena mi teléfono y yo contesto con mi apellido y eso me costó mucho, mucho trabajo porque al principio pues yo siempre contestaba con un “Hallo” o un “Guten Tag”…
This translates to:
My telephone rings and I answer it with my last name, and this is really difficult for me [she literally says that it costs her a lot of work], because in the beginning I always answered with a “Hallo” or “Guten Tag” [German for “Good day”].
So you can say that something is difficult for you and requires a lot of effort or patience by simply saying, “me cuesta”, or you can specify what it costs you as she did here by saying that it cost her a lot of work: “me costó mucho, mucho trabajo”.
Ok, I have to stop here. This has gotten long enough for both of us. Oh but we’re not done yet: there’s a quiz!
Yes, that’s right, I’ve decided to start putting quizzes at the bottom of posts such as these because they’re fantastic for helping people learn what was just taught because they make you recall and apply what you just learned. These quizzes are short and free. After the quiz I’ll repost the video so you can play it again and see how much more of it you can understand now (remember to turn on the subtitles if you need them).
Are you learning Spanish? Would you like to use popular media like the above video, as well as movies, shows, music, etc. to do it?
I literally wrote the book about how to do that: it’s about how to learn Spanish from popular media like YouTube videos, Netflix series, movies, music, books, etc. You get to pick things that interest and/or entertain you, that are made by and for native speakers, and I’ll teach you how to learn Spanish from them. If that interests you and especially if you’d like to support my work, I’d really appreciate if you could check it out, it’s called The Telenovela Method. It’s currently available in both e-book and paperback from:
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