Spanish idioms using nationalities and countries are very popular when we speak in the colloquial register. Clichés and stereotypes are present at all languages. They are used to make jokes, prejudge and even attack people for racist reasons. However, there are Spanish idioms using nationalities that have remained fixed in our language and speakers don’t even know about their origins. Today, on Spanishviaskype’s blog, we’ll learn some of them.

Spanish idioms using nationalities: “Hacerse el sueco”

There are two interesting theories about this one. Is sueco referring to a Swedish person or a clog shoe?

For some linguists, the first theory is the most reasonable. Swedish sailors used to arrive at Spanish ports and they couldn’t speak a single word in our language; or that is what they pretended, in order to take advantage of the situation when they had to do business.

On the other hand, the word sueco could come from the Latin soccus (a kind of slippers that used actors in the theater). This term evolved into zueco, a wooden and rude shoe, as people who se hacen el sueco seem to be.

Whatever the origin is, the meaning of this idiom is pretending to be distracted for not taking the hint.

For example: Pedí ayuda a mi hermano para montar el armario pero se hizo el sueco.

“Ser una montaña rusa”

We are sure that you might have gone on a ride on a roller-coaster. Las montañas rusas are the main attraction in an amusement park.

Of course, the origin of those rides is Russia. In order to fight the icy temperatures in winter, in the 18th century, Russians used to build sledges on the snow. People enjoyed sliding with their sleds and, at the same time, they warmed up.

If you have tried one of the modern ones, you might have felt a mix of emotions: fear, euphoria and an adrenaline rush. That is the meaning of the most exciting of our Spanish idioms using nationalities: ser una montaña rusa.

For example: Mi pareja ha roto nuestra relación y ahora yo soy una montaña rusa, lo mismo lloro que río.

Spanish Idioms Using Nationalities: “Ser un cuento chino”

Again we have some theories about the origin of this expression. One of them dates back to the time of Marco Polo. He and many others travelled to China and when they returned home, they used to tell fantastic stories about strange animals and inconceivable wonders located in those lands. Obviously, people knew they were exaggerating.

On the contrary, other specialists think that Spanish idioms using nationalities can’t be so ancient. The fact is Spanish companies went to China in 19th century to search for cheap labour. Spain and Great Britain decided to stop the slave market, and China was suffering an economic crisis. Spaniards promised them a house, food and gold if Chinese workers went with them to Cuba. However, the reality was very different.

One or the other, ser un cuento chino, means to be a tall tale.

For example: Las webs que prometen aprender español en treinta días son un cuento chino. Prueba mejor con

“Ser cabeza de turco”

There is no doubt about the origin of this expression. The wars between the Christian crusaders and the Turkish were very bloody. When an enemy was captured, if he was not a notable man, he often had his head cut. This trophy was exhibit in masts, spears or gates in castles. That poor man paid for others’ sins.

That’s what ser cabeza de turco means, to be considered guilty, even being innocent, as an excuse to hide the true person responsible.

For example: Toda la clase estaba hablando y el profesor me castigó solo a mí: soy el cabeza de turco.

As you can see, these Spanish idioms using nationalities are very interesting. If you are curious and want to know more, don’t hesitate a reserve a lesson with us. Do you want to try first? Don’t worry, reserve a free trial lesson here: no te hagas el sueco.