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Getting Used to Miami’s Spanish Saturation

July 21, 2011 By Matt Meltzer in  | 29 Comments


There was a time, not so very long ago, where hearing Spanish made my skin crawl. It was like nails on a chalkboard. And if someone deigned talk to me en Espanol, in return they got an earful in English.

“I don’t speak Spanish,” I’d sneer at them. “Learn English, then talk to me.” And with that I’d walk away.

I wouldn’t do business in a place where the help couldn’t understand me. And upon leaving, I’d rant to whoever I was with about what a jacked up city this was, and how much I hated Latin culture.

But lately I’ve come to realize: It just doesn’t bother me anymore. Maybe I’m getting old, or maybe I’ve just gotten beaten down by it. Or maybe I’m just tired of fighting. But that rage that burned every time I heard reggaeton five years ago is now barely a smoldering ember.



A funny thing happens when an American transplant makes it past the two year mark in Miami. The mark that determines whether you’re going to be a long-term tourist or a legitimate resident.  You start to take the Spanish as just another part of daily life. Yeah it may suck constantly being an outsider and rarely meeting anyone with your common background. But being the only white person in the room becomes the norm. Spanish music in an Irish Pub neither surprises nor phases you. You can’t pinpoint when exactly you stopped being frustrated and angry. But now the only time you realize exactly how much of a minority you are is when you get off a plane in another city, look around the airport, and go “Damn. There’s a lot of white people here.”

For me. it probably started the last time I left Miami, swearing – as I always did – that I just couldn’t handle this Spanish stuff anymore. But as I finished school and thought about where to live, I realized something:


Nowhere is perfect. And every city has its disadvantages. And all you can do is get used to the stuff you hate, and enjoy the things you love.

Like when you ask a Chicagoan how they deal with the winters, they say “Well, you get used to it.”

Or ask an Angelino how they deal with the hour-long commutes to work. “Well, you get used to it.”

The same goes for the saturation of Spanish and Latin culture in Miami. Like cold and traffic, I really dislike it. But when people ask me how I deal with the constant language and cultural barriers I find myself saying “Well, you get used to it.”



Now I find myself going into Walgreens with a new Miamian and laughing at their infuriation.

“Why can’t this guy at the counter speak English?!” they demand to know. “How are they doing business here?! This IS still America, right?!”

And where five years ago this comment would have sparked an hour long discussion on why Miami was so messed up, now I just shrug.

“Yep,” I tell the new Miamian with about as much emotion as I use to describe the weather. “That’s Miami. Nobody speaks English.”


I don’t tell them to accept it. Because I still don’t think we should accept immigrants who won’t learn our language. And I don’t tell them to deal with it, because again, we should not be forced to deal with the shortcomings of newcomers. I just tell them to get used to it. Because if you wanna make it in Miami, that’s all you can do.



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About the Author: Matt Meltzer is a featured columnist at Miami Beach 411.

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29 Comments on

"Getting Used to Miami’s Spanish Saturation"

Blackford Oakes says:

Muy bueno Matt

Posted on 07/22/2011 at 8:28 AM

Mirna says:

It’s “Español”, not Espanol, and you can type it from your English Keyboard pressing Alt+164. You’ll get used to it.

When I moved to the United States, it was a problem learning English in Miami because everytime I said something in English, people noticed my accent, and switched to Spanish; I rarely had the opportunity to practice. I watched a lot of TV back then, and I didn’t have cable. The first phrase I learned in English was “Take it off” from the Jerry Springer show.

Posted on 07/22/2011 at 9:35 AM

jess says:

RIP White Dade!

Posted on 07/22/2011 at 9:45 AM

A Transplant Turned Local says:

The people that move to Miami without spending enough time here that they wouldn’t be infuriated by a drug store clerk that spoke Spanish first are just as much a part of your perceived problem as the the clerk himself. Anytime I hear someone complain about this place after moving here I rarely sympathize but instead think they’re an idiot for not doing their homework first before making an obvious impulse decision. Regardless, I came here from a state where minorities were as rare a sunny day in February and I definitely don’t agree with the entire premise of the language barrier being so horrible. I think it’s something white Americans latch onto when they get a dose of being a minority for the first time in their lives rather than an actual issue. Or it’s something people turn to when they run out of things to complain about as they drive to Nikki Beach or Monty’s on a Sunday afternoon in January because they don’t want to take the boat out 2 days in a row. Either way it’s a boring conversation for anyone that has been here more than a week. If it took you YEARS to get over something people will debate you on of its very existence then maybe you should have moved or sought help for your anger or racial issues.

Posted on 07/22/2011 at 1:44 PM

Eric says:

100%. I’ve just gotten used to it.

Posted on 07/22/2011 at 6:05 PM

Michelle says:

Not only have a I gotten used to it (after 16 years), but I miss hearing Spanish if I travel for long periods of time. Perhaps the language, that I still don’t speak, has become sort of a comfort to me to let me know I am home.

I have also thought by not understanding, it doesn’t bother me. For instance, if I am in a public place and there are a lot of people speaking Spanish, I don’t know what they are saying so I am not caught up in eaves dropping; I just carry on, minding my own business.

Matt, I am glad you have become comfortable with living in Miami. smile

Posted on 07/23/2011 at 11:06 AM

Doug says:

The irony is that you speak very good Spanish, Matt! I remember seeing your appearance on Sabado Gigante and being a little surprised.

Posted on 07/23/2011 at 12:11 PM

Stephanie says:

Ironically, I’m from Miami and am currently in Gainesville at UF. When I hear Spanish I smile and reflect on my hometown. The other thing you mentioned Matt, about traveling and asking “Wow, there’s so many white people!”, I can definitely agree with. I feel the same way when I’m in Northern FL. Still, I can’t help but miss my beautiful South Florida and of course, Miami.

There is something so different from both North & South FL but honestly all I would expect to hear from whites is, “Exactly! It’s because the more South you go, it’s all Hispanic people! It’s a different country!” And to this, I grimace. I am part Hispanic and white and I get so upset over this. While I value the school I am at, I would never in a million of years move anywhere in North FL. Everyone I have met here has 2 responses toward Miami: it’s either condescending or “Wow, cool, Miami! South Beach!”

This article reminds me of your old article comparing Miami to Gainesville (UM & UF!).

Posted on 07/23/2011 at 3:32 PM

Lord Phase says:

It’s about timing, white people use to hate african americans….but now..most of white people took african american culture (music, way to talk and dress)....
I heard also the same comment as matt use to think and they’re for example servers, why people come in vacation if they don’t speak english….?
Evolution….global economy and other facts made a huge change around the world…..think about diferences with the other people just make a long distance between humans…..i guess it’s not the way to make a better world..
sorry , but my english it’s a little poor, but i hope u guys understand the idea….

Posted on 07/23/2011 at 5:08 PM

laurab says:

Miami has a lot of racism.  As an Anglo-American, I see it.  I see it in the way that other White people tell me that I should move to Broward where it is “more American.” I should, “not go south of Aventura.”  For some reason, other white people seem to think it is a good assumption that I would share their feelings of resentment and disdain for latin americans and the craziness that is Miami.  I don’t.

Miami can frustrate the hell out of me.  Some of that has to do with cultural differences, some of it just has to do with being a big city.

Posted on 07/23/2011 at 8:23 PM

laurab says:

Matt, do you ever feel uncomfortable about other people’s perception of you as being racist? I am not sure if you are or aren’t “racist” but have wondered how you feel about other people assuming from the things you say, that you are?  That would really bother me, does it bother you?

Posted on 07/23/2011 at 8:34 PM

Matt Meltzer says:

Catt, your political corrextness nauseates me. Honestly, when people say someone is “American” here, they mean White. Period. It’s just part of the local lexicon. So please leave the PC nonsense up in the northeast. Americans here are White People. Latins are Hispanics. It’s just the nomenclature whether you like it or not. If I can get used to the Spanish, you can get used to terms not being as politically correct as you’d like.

And I wanna make somethign REAL clear here…I STILL GENERALLY DISLIKE HEARING SPANISH EVERYWHERE I GO AND DON’T LIKE MUCH ABOUT LATIN CULTURE EITHER. I’m not like, oh, rah rah Spanish and multiculturalism. F- that. I think Latin Culture is completely backwards and that people who come to this country need to learn English or get out. That said, as I use in my anallogy about Chicagoans and the cold, I hate it but I get used to it. Like I don’t go into a rage because I’m just tired of being angry. But that does NOT mean I like it. At all.

Laura, Hell no I don’t mind being called racist. Because we are ALL a little racist. Some more than others. And I don’t judge people before I meet them, so it’s not something that affects my daily life. I’ll never say “Oh, I don’t wanna talk to that person because he’s Cuban” or whatever. People are people, regardless of race, age whatever. My issue has always been with the culture, not the people. So, basically, no I DON’T mind being called racist. Because I am. And so are you. Me just probably a little moreso.

Posted on 07/23/2011 at 10:37 PM

laurab says:

I think I am going to take this article at face value and be glad that Matt is feeling less rage toward the “latiness” of Miami then he used to.  I don’t claim to be perfect in my stereotypes and assumptions about people.  I don’t believe myself to be racist, (insert here the stereotypical “I am married to a man who is half Mexican, I have tons of Latin and African American friends…. (you know the drill).”  I generally like multi-cultural events, food, language etc.

I don’t like some of the things like chronic lateness, disorganization, slow and crappy service, rudeness.  But there are some mighty slow, rude, disorganized venues/people in the Great American White South, and that drives me nuts.  I don’t think it is exclusive to one race or another.  But it seems to be more common here in the South as opposed to the North. The North and South of the USA, not just Florida.  Maybe that is just one big, overreaching stereotype.  In the North, it seems like people just get S**T done in a more streamlined, organized manner.  That appeals to me and is the main source of my frustration in Miami.

Posted on 07/24/2011 at 12:02 PM

laurab says:

Hey, can I read your White Dade blog? I looked it up and it says it is for invited only…

Posted on 07/24/2011 at 6:43 PM

Calitransplant says:

Just learn spanish and embrace the culture. You will find that its not that bad and it is actually, in some ways, better than the single culture society.

Posted on 07/25/2011 at 12:27 AM

miamism says:

Loved reading this because from an immigrant’s perspective (one who arrived from Venezuela almost 30 years ago), I would get angry that other Latins didn’t take the time to learn the language.  What’s interesting when you leave the US is that most of the world speaks more than one language.  Americans are one of the few in the world that usually only speak English.

Thanks for your perspective - much appreciated!

Posted on 07/25/2011 at 10:31 AM

Jess says:

In my experience, people from English speaking countries usually only speak English. Not just America but Australia, England, Ireland, Scotland… you’ll find they are the same as the US and it is rare to have bi-lingual people.

Of course when you leave the US ( or those countries I named) you will find people speaking more than one language, as most people learn English if it is not their first language. Unless you live here of course.

Posted on 07/25/2011 at 1:41 PM

Matt Meltzer says:

Calitransplant, I see what you’re saying. But having lived in a multicultural society (supposedly, I don’t see much besides Latin culture here) i can safely say, no, actually, it’s a lot worse than traditional American culture. I f-ing hate Latin culture, actually. But my point here is that I just got used to it sucking. It’s Miami’s major drawback, and I learn to live with it as one does with whatever the major drawback of his or her city is. Please don’t read into this as me having anything nice to say about Latin culture.

And, yeah, the beauty of America is that we don’t NEED to learn anybody else’s language. Or culture. We are the richest, most powerful nation in the world who pretty much controls what goes on on this planet. So, no, we don’t need to bother ourselves with learning about anyone else if we don’t want to. And I LOVE it that way.

Posted on 07/27/2011 at 3:42 PM

Blackford Oakes says:

Matt - Why would you want to label hispanics as a fungible entinty ?

They’re about ~ 20 countries that principaly speak Spanish or are considered hispanic.

I’ve been to most of them. There might be a few clusters with a common culture but many night and day

I’m onboard with the language issue but as far as culture, what existed before the Europeans arrived here is a lot more interesting than hot dogs and burgers.

Posted on 07/27/2011 at 6:41 PM

H. Hesse says:

So, what you are saying is that the beauty of this country is its insular and ignorant adherence? Methinks otherwise, Matt.

Another ignorant remark I find fascinating is your implication that America’s culture comes from its power and wealth. If so, what sort of culture can that breed if not insular and ignorant? Tell me more about American culture. Its food, music, clothing, art, and architecture were all hand-me-downs from various other cultures.

As for your dislike of Latin culture, well, we’ll bog it down to your xenophobia and call it a day, sir.

Posted on 07/30/2011 at 5:18 PM

laurab says:

While I don’t agree with Matt’s premise on Latin American culture (I love it-in fact I majored in it in college), I also do NOT agree with you, H. Hesse, that American culture is all handmedowns from other countries.  I think the United States has it’s own culture that is not just rip offs of other countries.  American’s have a spirit to them that is distinct.  There is the baseball, american pie culture that can come of as a caricature but is fairly true in many American stories.  For example, cheesy as it may sound, think of the show The Wonder Years.  Typical American growing up experience.  That to me, is an example of typical American culture that cannot be found in other countries. 

While Matt certainly feels strongly against other cultures intruding on the American way, and I view that influence as a positive thing, I get kinda peeved when the United States is painted as a culture-less country.  You don’t have a monopoly on culture and even if you think American culture is bland, it does not mean it doesn’t exist.

I hope the wonder years reference doesn’t come off stupidly, but seriously, when a lot of American’s think of their childhood, it resembles that.

Posted on 07/30/2011 at 7:41 PM

Tourist says:

Matt, I sincerely understand that you don’t like Latin culture, and respect your right to express it. But is really necessary to discuss it at The Official Miami Travel Site? From a tourist perspective it is not very interesting… and will NOT attract visitors. Sorry, but I can’t understand the real purpose of all of this.

Posted on 07/31/2011 at 1:17 PM

Matt Meltzer says:

Blackford, you may find it more interesting. I do not. I’ve learned about it. I’m not ignorant. I just flat out don’t like it. And that’s a matter of taste, I think.

And I glom all hispanic culture into one because that’s just what we do in America. I know we debate this a lot on the site, but it’s mostly Hispanics and Miamians debating it. Like get 100 random people from the midwest on here and ask them if there’s any difference TO THEM between Mexican and Chilean and Bolivian culture, and they will likely say no. I’m not saying they’re accurate in this assessment. I’m saying that’s just how most Americans think. And, personally, I prefer it that way because I quite frankly don’t care what the differences are.

Tourist, clearly you aren’t a regular on this site, and that’s ok. This is kind of what I do here, talk about my perspective on the city. It’s often unpopular. And that’s ok. But it furthers the discussion on the city and that’s kind of the idea.

Posted on 08/01/2011 at 8:42 PM

The 858 Kid says:

Are you a transplant to Miami? If so Miami is not your country. You have no more right to be there than someone from Brazil.

I live in San Diego and we are infested with Redneck military losers. Everyone here hates the military, but what can we do about it? Whenever I have a run in with a Marine loser I tell the to f*ck off and go back to the trailer park. That usually shuts then up.

Posted on 08/31/2011 at 4:30 PM

Matt Meltzer says:

Insult the military. That’s always a good way to win people to your point of view.

Posted on 09/02/2011 at 10:20 PM

Elizabeth says:

I am an Anglo fluent in Spanish. I have a weird problem when a clerk handles my transaction property in English and then I make an offhand cute or funny comment and get no reaction. I feel like I should just always speak Spanish to everyone. I don’t want to insult anyone. I love Spanish and Latin culture. Or maybe “go Miamian” and speak English and Spanish interchangeably! wink

Posted on 11/04/2011 at 9:48 PM

Maria says:

It´s true the same thing happens to my mom she tries to learn english but whenever she talks they notice her weird English and talk to her in Spanish, how is she going to learn that way? people think that immigrants dont want to learn English but they dont realize is it not easy at all

Posted on 11/15/2011 at 6:53 PM

Eatme says:

858 kid? More 858 Retard. First off you aren’t telling any US Marine to “F Off” cause you would get your little brown ass beat in a heartbeat. And second Miami isn’t a county, it’s a city. So before you illegally cross the border into the United States, atleast do yourself a favor and take just a little bit of time to learn about US cities/states and a general idea of where they are located. They way if you ever need to make a run back for the border before risking deportation, you will have a general idea of where to go.

Posted on 11/26/2011 at 3:12 PM

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