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Be Ready Before Traveling


In June of 2013, I made a trip to Puerto Rico with some friends, one of them Puerto Rican, who invited us to go see his island. There I understood why they call it the Island of Enchantment, as I was enchanted by its music, culture, colors, people, and of course, by El Yunque, Puerto Rico’s rainforest.

Everything was going perfect, until on the way to the taxi, we’re walking on the sidewalk and we see a little bug walking along our feet, which one of my friends was about to step on, at which I yelled “Cuidado con el bicho” (Watch out for the bug).  To my surprise, my Puerto Rican friend along with her entire family are staring at me, jaws to the floor for about 15 seconds until they start hysterically laughing with no consolation.

Needless to say I couldn’t be more confused, until my friend explains to me, while still unable to breathe due to laughter, that the term “bicho”, which by the way is used in many Spanish speaking countries to describe a bug, has a different meaning in Puerto Rico. There, it is a “bad word”, a slang used for that body part that boys have and girls don’t, and no, I’m not talking about the Adam’s apple. Needless to say, my face turned red with embarrassment. This time it was no more than a big joke that made everyone laugh for a few minutes, but it could’ve been worse, it could’ve been a very bad or degrading term, even though unintentional, could’ve ended up as being very offensive.

The lesson that I learned that day, and one of my priorities whenever traveling to another Spanish-speaking country that is not my own, is to find out what these “bad words” and slang terms are, either by asking someone from that country or through the internet. That way, we can, not completely, but greatly reduce our chances of an embarrassing moment due to terminology differences between countries and/or regions.

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