Spanish – Words to Call a Stranger
amiga/o — friend. If you’re hailing a male stranger on the street, as if to ask for directions, you can hardly go wrong addressing him as amigo. Amiga is also OK for a woman but is not as common.
amor — love. Surprisingly, it’s not uncommon for men or women to address strangers with this disarming word. Used by women to address men, by women to address women, and by men to address women, but not usually used by men to address men.
brother — brother. A hip way to address a man you don’t know, especially if you are also a man.
china/o — Chinese person. Call it politically incorrect (and use with caution), but it’s not uncommon in Costa Rica to address a person with Asian features like this, even if they are from some country other than China.
flaca/o — skinny person. You might never address a thin person back home as “Hey, stringbean,” but here it’s not all that unusual to address strangers by how they look physically.
gordo — fat person. Obviously, use extreme caution before calling a stranger gordo, gorda or the more endearing gordito, gordita or gordi. But it happens, and it’s not meant to be insulting.
hermano — brother. You disarm and endear yourself to someone when you address them with a word indicating a close relationship that you both know you don’t really have.
mami — mommy. Men should use with caution, especially if you’re not intending to flirt, as this is often a very flirtatious word, sometimes used by men to address their girlfriends or wives. But it’s often innocently used by both men and women to address a woman that they barely know, and oddly you will sometimes hear mothers addressing their own little daughters as mami.
mopri — an anagram word for primo, cousin.
muchacha/o — girl/boy. Back home you would never say, “Boy!” or “Girl!” to get the attention of a waiter or waitress, but in Costa Rica it’s a perfectly appropriate thing to say if the person is younger than you, and it may be seen as a compliment if they’re not all that much younger.
negra/o — black person. Use with caution and kindness, or not at all. But it’s not uncommon in this country to hail a black person, for example a bartender, by saying, Negrita or Negrito. The word is also used of a person who is not African but has dark skin.
niña/o — girl/boy. Similar to muchacha/o (which is more common), it’s acceptable to address a younger person by calling her or him a child.
pa — short for papá (dad) or compañero (companion) or compadre (good friend) pa is usually an acceptable way to hail a male stranger you don’t know.
papá — dad. Strange as it may sound, no male stranger on the street will think it strange if you call him papá.
papito — daddy. See papá, though papito is probably more common. If you’re stopped on the road behind 50 cars and you ask the dried banana vendor at your car window what’s going on, he may say, Están trabajando en el camino, papito — “They’re working on the road, Daddy.”
primo — cousin. Another form of endearment through pretending that you have a family relationship with a stranger.
señor/señora — sir/ma’am. Always an acceptable way of addressing an older person or a person of roughly the same age, if you are old enough to be called the same.
señorita — miss. A very proper way to address a young woman. If you’re on the phone talking to a woman whose age is unknown, you might cover your bases by saying, Señora — o señorita…. (“Ma’am — or Miss….”).
tío — uncle. See rules of endearment above. Especially appropriate for a man who may be older than you.