Expensive Spanish Mistake!


Image – Madrid’s Retiro Park

When our boiler broke the other day (No hot water for showers! No heating just as it gets colder in Madrid!), I (Ben) was left in charge of dealing with the plumber that came round to fix it. He found the problem, and as he was getting to work on fixing it, I remembered to ask how much it was going to cost before he got under way…

Ben: ¿Cuánto nos va a costar entonces?

Plumber: Ciento y pico…

Now, I always understood …y pico to mean, ‘and a little bit’, so in my head I thought, “OK, it’s going to be about 120 or 130 Euros max”, and seeing as we’d paid 110 euros the last time, I said, “Pues adelante” – go for it.

Imagina my surprise when he presented me with a bill for 175 Euros at the end!

Plumber: Pues aquí tienes la factura, son 175 Euros – Well here’s the bill, it’s 175 Euros

Ben: Pero, ¿No habías dicho ciento y pico? – Didn’t you say it was one hundred and a bit?

Plumber: Sí, 175 Euros son ciento y pico. – Yes, 175 Euros is a hundred and something.

So, Marina, after getting over her surprise that I’d paid 65 Euros more than the last time to fix the boiler, explained that ciento y pico means anywhere between 100 and 200.

Mil y pico would be anywhere between 1000 and 2000. As the plumber pointed out, ciento y pico means ‘100 and something’, not, as I’d understood it, ‘100 and a bit’.

I felt pretty annoyed that I’d gone so long using y pico in the wrong way, but quite delighted to have learned (the hard way!) what it really means at last. Still it could have been worse, it was a ciento y pico mistake, and not a mil y pico mistake!

Let us know in the comments below if you’ve had any ‘put your foot in it’ Spanish mistakes in your Spanish learning life!

Remember, our Spanish audios and worksheets are full of Real Spanish to help you avoid mistakes like this!

65 thoughts on “Expensive Spanish Mistake!

    1. Melanie Zwyghuizen

      I was with you Ben! I have always understood it to be “and a little bit” as my friends would say referring to the age of her young daughter “Tiene un año y pico” . I guess it depends on context then?

  1. Moira Cowie

    Thanks so much for that, Ben. I’ve been speaking Spanish for over 30 years, and I’ve always understood “y pico” in exactly the same way as you did. I have been warned!

  2. Rerired Rob

    I am a beginner and my mistake was in trying to say that I’d had big eggs – I’m sure you know the translation misunderstanding without me having to explain further!

  3. Margarita

    I am still learning Spanish, just level three, good to know. Added knowledge . Thanks for sharing Ben and Marina.

  4. Susan

    So can’t “y pico” ever mean a little bit? For example, vivi alli por un ano y pico (apologies…not a Spanish language-friendly keyboard)?

  5. Anita

    Wow! THE SAME happened to me with a boiler, it was a boiler replacement and I don’t remember the final bill but I always thought the workman didn’t stick to his estimate and was really annoyed with him. But didn’t ask for an explanation. ONLY NOW I realize I didn’t even learn the hard way! I was still thinking it meant and ‘a bit’.

  6. jillian white

    My Spanish is terrible. After living in Barcelona 2 years, all I acquire is more amigos extranjeros que no hablan Castellano (ni Catalan). But I have quite a good vocabulario de las palabras malodicho.

    Before I gave up trying to find Spanish/Catalan friends I was at a dinner one night, and one of the men was asking me a lot of personal questions that were making the others laugh. I only partially understood but I got the gist that he wasn’t being kind. However, to show I could take a joke, even at my expense, I wanted to say – using an Australian expression – that he was a joker, (so full of the bullshit) and thus laugh him off. Instead I said “Eres lleno de mierda”, which I thought would make him laugh and stop. He stopped alright! He very blatantly refused to speak to me for the rest of the night, and acted terribly offended. An Argentinian friend later told me never to describe someone and use the word mierda at the same time.

      1. Max

        The difference between “el publico” and “la publica” may cost you oh so much… Especially in a crowded auditorium…

  7. Kati

    I also thought “Y pico” meant “and a bit” or “and something,” but a SMALL something! My main hilarious/embarrassing mistake luckily cost me no money, but is maybe not appropriate to a public feed. It had to do with me telling someone that I didn’t eat beef, but I did eat chicken….what could go wrong…..I’ll let you work it out.

    1. MargaritaMc

      This is so frustrating, Kati! – myn colloquial Spanish isn’t good enough to work out what the embarrassment was about! (Ah, the dictionary has one meaning of pollo as being something coughed up. Yes/no?)

  8. Esther

    Thanks for the heads up! Word Reference confirms it:

    y pico conj + nm coloquial (cantidad extra) and then some expr

    Not quite sure how you would say “and a bit” or “ish” now… Could it be “ciento y algo” or “ciento y poco” or using more concrete terms of approximation e.g. “alrededor de”?

  9. Steve Gold

    My Spanish misunderstanding story is much more subtle but nonetheless very funny.

    I have lived in Madrid for about 2 años y pico (i.e. Just shy of three years!). My car had sustained some very minor damage which the insurance company was going to cover. When I spoke to them and the car dealership, the people kept telling me that el perrito (little dog) had to have a look at the car. I was thinking “what the hell does my DOG have to do with anything??!!” So I couldn’t really carry on a proper conversation because that word kept stopping me. I finally learned that what they were referring to was “el perito” (one r) and that means something akin to the insurance person (or expert) that looks at the problem and assigns a value as to what it’s going to cost. The mistakes I make on a daily basis (many hysterical) could fill a book. At least it makes life interesting!

  10. B Bugge

    So, with one basic course in spanish and half-way through the Duolingo tree I found myself in Spain. Every morning I went to the local baker to buy some bread. That going well I decided to gear things up a bit and ask whether he would be open the next day:

    [Me] – ‘Er… Uhm… Abrigo mañana?’

    [Baker, straight-faced] – ‘Sí. Mañana abrigo.’

    I went back to my wife with the bread and confidence. Only to discover that I of course had asked whether there would be coat tomorrow, or something along those lines.

    So now my wife and her friends call the baker Mr. Abrigo. At least when I’m around.

    1. Claire

      Abrigarse as a verb means to wrap up warm, so maybe he thought you were expecting cold weather tomorrow!

  11. Ian

    I’ve always understood “y pico” to mean between this round number ending in “0” and the next one (10 – 20; 150 – 160; 200 – 300 etc). I usually ask people, especially tradesmen, to be more specific por ejemplo: entre cien y ciento cinquanta euros.
    It’s also highly recommended when asking what time they are going to come.
    They might say “a eso de las tres” (around three o’clock), if you don’t pin them down or impose your own availability they could arrive at four or five, or even the next day. “Tendré que marcharme yo a las cuatro y media. Ya que tengo reunion a las cinco”

  12. Tim

    I like this one Ben. “Yo soy cincuenta y pico”. Does that work? I have your full enchilada; all great stuff. I am also combing your podcasts with lessons and they work well together. I keep impressing my teacher with your phrases but sometimes she doesn’t get it. Me mola is one i find many don’t get. They are not trendy enough I guess. She is also from El Salvador and she says much of “mainland” Spanish now is similar and she gets thought of as a Spaniard and gets better services as a result. Is this your experience.

  13. Paul

    Muy interesante. Voy a contarles esta historia a mis compañeros de clase la semana que viene, para que no hagan lo mismo jaja.
    Gracias. Paul.

  14. David Garrett

    Like many native English speakers, I get genders mixed in Spanish (or French or….), even for words I use often. In Spain last month, my wife and I wanted tea a la moda inglesa, that is black tea, hot water and cold milk. But the Spanish tend to put the milk (hot or cold) in straight away, with the tea bag. So I was asking for té negra con leche fresco aparte. A waiter went away with my order laughing to himself. With growing horror, I realised I should have said leche fria (fresca would mean unprocessed). a hasty look at word reference confirmed that leche is feminine but also that leche has some unfortunate other meanings. Thankfully, they are all feminine too ! I guess the waiter must have thought it either strange, or so typical of the British to want tea that way, rather than using my error to produce an embarrassing double-entendre or a request that he finds a cow and milks it..

  15. Richard

    Real Academia gives this relevant description : A small part of an amount in that this exceeds a round number. It also gives as another meaning but I don´t think it fits in your case: A great amount of money.
    So officially you were correct in your initial assumption. You should always have the Academia dictionary available in financial transactions with Spaniards!

  16. eMarie

    Yes, many mistakes. I have to use Spanish with some Latin American patients. I have an occasional patient from Spain, but they usually speak English, and prefer it once they hear my Spanish.
    Once I said “Necesito tomar su sangria” instead of “Necesito tomar la sangre” trying to explain to a patient that we needed a blood specimen.
    This caused great amusement.
    And once, when trying to reschedule a patient (who was going home to the Caribbean for a time),
    “Vuelve a mí después de su vieja” instead of “Vuelve a mí después de su viaje”. Sending the patient into a paroxysm of laughter.
    Luckily the Dominicans are very forgiving. I suppose issues like this is why the hospitals make you use a telephone translator here in the States.

  17. James

    !Vaya! Creo que el fontanero era un poco astuto. Siempre he pensado lo mismo. (Cuando mis amigos me dicen sus edades, es un poco como treinta y pico o treinta y algo. Siempre he pensado que tienen treinta y uno o treinta tres).

    Voy a preguntarles que quieren decir con “pico”.

    Una pregunta. ¿ Es el significado de “pico” lo mismo con “algo”?

  18. Claire

    Maybe it’s a regional/Madrid thing? “… y pico” in Andalucía definitely means “just over”.

  19. Chris

    I was with my family in Ibiza last year, and as I speak ‘un poco español’ I was making small talk with the waiter. At the end of they meal, and a couple of drinks, I wanted to say I had had enough, and proclaimed “Estoy lento”. He laughed. I thought he was being humble. I realised afterwards I should have said “Estoy lleno”

  20. Ruth

    Last week, after I ordered my lunch from the Nicaraguan taco truck, I tried to say that I was hungry (tengo hambre), but the nice guy thought that I said that I have man (tengo hombre). He was amused.

  21. Natasha

    Loved your accidental Spanglish there, Ben – ‘Imagina my surprise’

    When I was living in Argentina I started chatting to some new friends about the ‘masochismo’ culture I’d heard about, and only realized a while later that ‘machismo’ is the word I was after and ‘masochismo’ is something quite different!

  22. Elizabeth

    My Argentine husband likes to tease me about the time I ordered ‘una licuadora’ instead of ‘un licuado’ (a blender instead of a smoothie). It was pretty impressive that the waitress didn’t even make face.

  23. David Thomas

    My biggest but in away funniest mistake I ever made in Spanish was one that my Spanish tutor made me repeat in front of my night school Spanish class.
    On holiday in Benidorm sat in a bar having just had a couple of drinks I wantyed to settle my bill and I said to the young bar owners son “Quiero pegarle” at wich he went as red as a Manchester United shirt. ” What’s the matter I asked ( yea he spoke perfect English but I was trying out my Spanish ).
    ” You just said you want to hit me” was his resonse.
    Just one simple misuse of a vowel change the sentence from ” I want to pay you” to ” I wanto to hit you”.
    Well my Spanish teacher thought it was hillarious at least.

  24. Alli

    I was studying abroad and was unaware of the subtle differences of cono and coño. So I asked for a coño de helado and the man was quite surprised. Only later did I find out my mistake because my friends thought it was hilarious. Always fun being a foreigner!

  25. Bavala

    Pues, i always used “… y picos” so i felt warned and covered!
    Is “… y pico” used in the plural forms?

  26. Tom

    An Argentine friend (and native speaker) made the mistake using the phrase “y pico” in Santiago Chile pitching a $3 million software business solution. Apparently “pico” in Chile is slang for male genitalia. She couldn’t understand why half the board of directors were turning red with embarrassment while the other half were falling out of their chairs laughing when she explained the cost as “$3M y pico”. She did win the contract though.

  27. Nancy Jackson

    As a beginner student on a budget in Mexico City, I ordered the “plato sueco” (Swedish plate) in a rather upscale restaurant. When they brought a pricey order of caviar, I realized I should have said “suizo” a lower price cheese plate. We barely managed to scrape together enough pesos to pay la cuenta.

  28. John Gregg

    Hola Ben,
    Thanks for this latest top-tip in Spanish. One phrase that I love, and that from your podcasts I know you like too, is ‘Que te cagas..’ I’ve noticed it doesn’t seem to go down too well with Marina when you use it! I’ve tried it out a few times when out with Spanish friends and it is generally met with choking laughter and howls of no, no, no!! Cagar obviously has a clear meaning and I’m not choosing my time well to throw this little phrase it into the conversation. Any tips on where ‘que te cagas’ might make me sound like I know what I’m doing in Spanish? (which most of the time I don’t!) Muchas gracias…

  29. John Gregg

    Well, ‘que te cagas’ does exist as an acceptable phrase, it’s just a case of using it properly, hence my question. Surely it’s more interesting to use less known phrases now and again when learning a language, especially when practising with native speakers? It’s more fun, that’s for sure…

    1. Esther

      I live in Spain and my Spanish partner uses “que te cagas” all the time, but he comes from quite a ‘sweary’ family’ you might say (I’m known as “guiri de mierda”). He uses a lot to talk about temperatures “¡Hace un frío que te cagas!” for example. He also uses it about stuff he’s really excited about, like good food, especially if he’s complimenting me (or his mum!) “¡El arroz está que te cagas!” When I use it with his family it’s no problem, but with other more ‘prim’ girly friends I avoid it… I guess just use it with people you’re really familiar with and always take a measure of how the people around you are speaking. Another thing is that if the people you are with think you don’t control your Spanish, they may well presume you don’t know what you’re saying and get very flustered and maternal when you use coarser language and tell you absolutely never ever to use it. That happened a lot to me with hijo p*ta at the start, although I knew it was exactly the term I was looking for ;P

  30. Victoria

    This summer one spanish girl was hosting me in Madrid for 2 weeks. An and as I’m not a native Spanish speaker of course there were a lot of awkward moments . For example I couldn’t understand why the girl was laughing every time I was saying “yo voy al Sol”, until she explained me that if I want to say that I go to the Sol metro station I have to use “voy a(!) Sol “

  31. Edward

    I was in Mexico City last weekend, and felt so proud that I’d ordered room service in Spanish, asking them to bring me a bucket of ice and two champagne glasses for some Moet I’d bought at a great price at the duty free at the airport.

    Well, they brought the bucket of ice promptly along with two giant 12oz glasses and not the small champagne flutes I was expecting. I realized then that while placing the order, I had a brain freeze of not knowing the Spanish word for “flute,” so I had just done a quick direct translation from English, i.e., glass = vaso, totally forgetting that I should have used “copa.”

    I did admire the hotel for taking me so literally, though, in re “the customer is always right.” They probably thought I was a really uncouth gringo drinking champagne out of giant glasses, but, hey, that’s what the guest asked for. Hahahaha.

    Not an expensive mistake, but a memorable one. I’ll never forget the distinction again.

  32. Ben Post author

    Thanks for all the comments so far, I’ve been laughing a lot at all the classic mistakes – I’ve made a few of them myself, particularly telling my mother-in-law years ago that I loved chicken Korma and getting the ending wrong on pollo… An old friend also asked for a strawberry ice cream-cone in McDonalds and accidentally put an accent on the middle n of the cone word… quite disastrous!

    John Gregg, I think what Esther says is spot on for that phrase.

    As for the question that many of you have asked, how do you really say, ‘and a bit’ if it isn’t ‘y pico’, Marina says ‘ciento y poco’.

    Thanks again for all the classic stories and sorry for not replying to every comment individually, but all have been read and much enjoyed!

  33. Fred Glaser

    Recently in watching NBA basketball. I noticed a player with the last name of Llull. How should that be pronounced? I want to say you-ee. Or is it Yull?

    1. Ben Post author

      Funnily enough I know someone who lived on the calle Llull in Barcelona – it’s Catalan, and the pronunciation is indeed Yull, a bit like you’ll.

  34. Wynette

    And, of course, there is the Mexican salsa, Pico De Gallo, which means “beak of rooster” or “rooster’s beak”. We are familiar with this wonderful fresh salsa here in the southwest United States (New Mexico) so I always thought “pico” just meant “beak”. Here is wikipedia article about Pico De Gallo: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pico_de_gallo

  35. Jacob Lewin

    I was recently in one of our library branches. It has books in many languages, including Spanish and Russian. Some of the librarians there speak Spanish as well as English and other languages. I like police novels, so I proudly displayed my Spanish to the librarian. “Tienes libros polacos?” I inquired.
    The librarian looked puzzled. She told me they did have novels in Russian, but not Polish. Of course I meant libros policiacos.

  36. Rudy Garcia

    I would have made the same mistake, I would have thought they meant 110 or something. I didn’t even know “y pico” could de defined! Thanks for sharing your experience?

  37. Jeanne T.

    My story is from 31 years ago when I first met my husband. We met at a beach party and at the end of the evening after a few drinks, he asked to take me out the next day and said he’d pick me up “a las dos”
    (or so I thought) BTW: he is fluent in Spanish and I wasn’t back then. So, the next day, when he showed up at my door at 12 noon, I said “You’re early. ” He said, “No I’m not, I said 12 o’clock. Well. I wasn’t ready so he left and came back at 2:00. To this day (married 30 years) we laugh saying that we started out “not communicating.” Now I teach Spanish!

  38. Helen

    Hi my embarrassing story was not because I used the wrong word but because I misunderstood one. I had just arrived in Spain and my host and her boyfriend were chatting to me (they chatted, I threw in the odd Spanish word that I had learned). Anyway, when my host went to the kitchen the boyfriend started telling me about the awful accident his father had had. He had fallen off the balcony and was in hospital, thankfully no serious damage and they were hoping that he would be home later that day. I was very concerned for him of course but at the same time couldn’t help but think to myself, how on earth could he fall off a balcony, was he drunk or what? When my host returned, I said how sorry I was to hear about the father and how did it happen. She fell about laughing, apparently it was the cat and it was at the vets. Oh well, at least I got most of the story just not the most important bit.!

  39. Carol Bradshaw

    Hace unos años cuando empecé a aprender español, tuve que hablar en la clase de una habitación en mi casa. Decidí hablar de mi dormitorio, los muebles etc. Una de las cosas que dije fue “en mi dormitorio hay un armario que contiene seis cojones”. ¡El profe rió a carcajadas!

    1. MargaritaMc

      ¡Muy divertida, Carol! Lo hice algo similar hace unos años – le dije al camarero que me gustaba “cojon en salsa” en lugar de “conejo en salsa”. No exactamente “cojones” pero él me miró con asombro…

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