Common Expressions you may hear in Cancun


Several common expressions you will hear in Cancun, what they mean, and what they DON'T mean.


When a Mexican in Cancun addresses you as ‘friend’ or “Amigo” (say ‘ah-ME-go’), it’s not something they’re doing just for the tourists. The term is used throughout the country as a common greeting with someone you haven’t met until now, or somebody you may casually know but don’t know their name. It’s used by Mexicans toward other Mexicans as well, and reflects the wish that they hope to make friends, however casual or fleeting the relationship may be. Of course, a vendor or restaurant owner wants you to be their friend for at least the time it takes to make a purchase or enjoy a meal, so you’ll hear it a lot, but although it’s common everyday language, it’s meant with sincerity and with the hopes that indeed you will be a friend and not an enemy.


Gringo” is another term you’ll here in Cancun frequently, and it means somebody from north of the border (say ‘GREEN-Go’). Although some travelers take offense at this, there isn’t any insult implied…it’s merely a way of describing somebody, and considerably easier than saying the Spanish equivalent of “A person from the United States of America”. In case you’re wondering why you’re not referred to simply as an “Americano”, remember that EVERYBODY who lives in North, Central, and South America are Americans. If you tell a Mexican that you are an Americano because you live in the USA, you imply that you are something he is not and risk insulting him. Most likely, however, he will chuckle and tell you that he TOO is an Americano, and it’s true.


The word “Gringo” comes from Mexican Spanish, where it refers to a foreign language or a foreigner. It is an alteration of Spanish Griego 'a Greek; a stranger'. This is paralleled semantically by other uses of Greek referring to foreignness or strangeness, as in Shakespeare's "It's Greek to me." The Spanish word ultimately derives from Latin Graecus 'Greek'.


A persistent legend has it that gringo comes from the chorus of Green Grow the Lilacs, a popular song from 1846. Reportedly so many Americans would sing this song that Mexican soldiers, encountering them in the wars of that time, referred to the Americans as "Green grows," which became "gringos." As with most legends of this sort, there is no basis for this one. Another story goes that the word was shouted by Mexican soldiers to the green-dressed military of the U.S., originally as “Green, GO!”


Women are referred to in the feminine “Gringa”. Are Canadians “Gringos”? Mexicans and Canadians alike disagree on whether they are or not, but it’s really not that important, eh?


Pelon” means bald, and again carries no negative connotation…it’s merely a statement of fact and a way of identifying somebody. Even if you are not bald but have very very short hair, you may be referred to as “Pelon” (say ‘pay-LOAN’). There’s even a popular candy here called “Pelon” which is soft sweet goo in a little plastic plunger device decorated to look like a bald man…push the plunger, and the candy squeezes through holes in the head and makes candy ‘hair’.


Guero” means a light-skinned person (and most of the non-Mexican tourists to Cancun are “Gueros”), and once again it is merely a statement of fact and identification. Blond-haired people are especially “Guero”. Add blue eyes and you are almost a "super guero". (Say 'goo-AIR-lo', with the 'g' very 'soft'.)


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