Warning. While this post is not intentionally intended to offend, it does include swear words in both Spanish and English and my candid analysis of the two after living in Barcelona for over ten years. In which case and if you are easily offended, tough shit, you've been warned.
One of the first things I noticed when I moved to Barcelona and started to understand and learn the Spanish language and culture (and I can now be confident in saying it's the same for Catalan) was the prominence of swearing in everyday life. Speaking the English language, and especially being an English teacher when I first arrived here, I had sub-consciously (as I'm sure many of you will have) established some kind of hierarchy or set of levels as to the severity or intention of a particular word.
I'm guessing that your personal list will have a lot to do with upbringing, age, sex, an infinite list of possible influences, but at the end of the day, we'd probably all pretty much end up with a similar list. Starting with the most severe, and working down:
Fuck off/Fuck you
Regional variations within the English language can then be slotted into the above list, including:
Son of a bitch (something I never say, but is heavily used in the US, for example)
Wanker (a personal favourite of mine)
Motherfucker (will always be associated with Samuel L Jackson's character in Pulp Fiction?!)
So, now we've established the list, in order of severity and intent, let me give you an example.
My Nana, for example, (that's my grandmother, just in case) is rarely heard to utter a swear word. This doesn't mean she can't tolerate the words and would be the first to admit that certain situations can merit a swear word - dramatic scenes on television, making characters credible on stage or screen, and particularly desperate situations in life.
She would never be heard to utter the F word. And let me make what I think would be a pretty bold but definitely true statement - the majority of women NEVER utter the word "cunt" - in fact, it's usually referred to as "the C-word" taking its place right alongside "the F-word". Am I right? If you think I'm way off the mark here, please let me know in the comments (obviously if you're a porn star, I can make exceptions here).
So it may come as a surprise that in Spanish conversation, the C-Word is used as an everyday conversation filler, by almost every age group and with a complete disregard as to the people around you that you might offend. It rolls off the tongue so easily, and is perfectly appropriate in the middle of a crowded restaurant/bank/funeral parlour/the list goes on. Typical example.
Conversation between two friends (any age):
A. Did you bring that CD to listen to in the car, by the way?
B. Ah, cunt, I left it on top of the telly.
In English that sounds quite important and likely an inappropriate use for the word, right, but that's perfectly fine here. "Coño" is also almost always used in place of Fuck in English when you say "What the fuck...?".
Literal translations of words from English to Spanish don't always translate in terms of the strength associated with the word either;
shit = mierda.
fuck = follar (the act) joder (expressing surprise/annoyance, etc.)
That's about where the comparisons end. I have had the conversation with many people over the years: What is the worst swear word/insult in Spanish? Friends, students, random people in a bar, etc. have all contributed to my childish curiosity and pretty much agreed over the years that "hijo de puta" is probably the worst tirade of words you could bestow on someone. So, just in case you missed that, it's "son of a bitch/whore" - pretty lame right, even if you do spit the words out?
From here, I'm afraid the translation of the words become fairly comic for me. We have variations of:
Me cago en la puta - I shit in the bitch
Me cago en Dios - I shit in God
Me cago en la leche - I shit in the milk
Me cago en tu madre, etc. - I shit in your mother, etc.
Now, although they all conjure up very visually unappealing images in my mind, they're hardly the first thing that would come to my mind in a situation of desperation and annoyance. I remember actually laughing out loud one time, when waiting for someone in the street. A man was talking fairly loudly in his telephone by the side of the road in the city centre and holding a brightly coloured triangle of paper in his hand. At one point he pulled the phone away from his ear and shouted as if into a microphone "DONDE ESTA MI COCHE, LECHES!". Now, you must understand my complete bemusement at the time, with the pure intent and blood-boiling rage running through this man's body at the time (I was unaware of the abbreviation or even the full version) and the best he could come up with was "WHERE IS MY CAR, MILK".
According to certain sources, French is the best language to swear in as it's like wiping your arse with silk but I fully agree with one of the wisest men on the planet when he says there just is no replacement for the word Fuck sometimes, what do you think?
But going back to the original point, there appears to be no line to be crossed when swearing in Spanish, no words that can't be spoken by a certain gender/group/age. It's part of everyday conversation (people regularly swear on TV during the day here and it's never highlighted or drawn to anyone's attention, and I doubt the broadcasters receive any complaints). Which for me must be a little frustrating, right? So what about those occasions where you're REALLY annoyed? Here's a shout out to all of you bi-lingual Spanglish people out there (or not). Do you swear in your own language or in Spanish? or your adopted language? Which do you prefer? I'd guess everyone swears in their own language cos it comes so much from within, right? Let me know your thoughts.
If you're coming to Barcelona soon, try apartments for rent instead of a hotel. And for a quick look at the best sights, see this Barcelona guide.