Cuídate: A Manifesto

Delusions of grandeur? ¿Ya me las estoy dando de autora o qué? Actually, it’s not completely preposterous–I am going to write a book at some point, maybe several. You heard it here first. I’m going to do a lot of things in my life. You’ll be able to say Yo la conocía cuando . . . 

My post on greetings in Spanish from a while back  still brings a fair amount of traffic to my blog; I really ought to write a sister post on how to say goodbye in Spanish. I’ll write that post on Spanish farewells soonish, but today let’s focus on just one component of Spanish sendoffs: cuídate.

¡Cuídate! Take care!

Bueno, ¡chau! ¡Cuídate mucho! ¡Nos vemos! Gracias, lo mismo. Nos estamos hablando. Chau.

All right, bye! Take good care of yourself! See you later! Thanks, you too. We’ll be in touch. Bye.

Bueno, ya te dejo, me voy al sobre. Qué rico saber de ti. Que estés muy bien. Te cuidas. Un abrazo. Chau.

OK, well I’m gonna let you go. I need to go to bed. Great to hear from you. Hope you have a good week. All the best. A big hug. Bye.

If you know the song Con la frente marchita by the Spanish singer Joaquín Sabina, you’ve heard the line “Mándame una postal de San Telmo, adiós, ¡cuídate!”Great song. (I prefer this cover.)

As you can see, you can also say Te cuidasThey’re exactly the same. I find cuídate to be more common, maybe because it rolls off the tongue a little more smoothly. I don’t want to split hairs, though. No partamos pelos. (That phrase doesn’t exist, but I coined it and used it semi-frequently in Colombia with someone who was willing to indulge me and my little bobadas.)

You can also say te me cuidas. This acknowledges more intimacy between you and your interlocutor. For me, it’s similar to the greeting ¿Cómo me le va? In both cases, you are dear to me and I actively care about your wellbeing. Therefore, how you’re doing has a direct impact on how I’m doing, and you taking care of yourself (or not) has implications for my own emotional state. I know, I love to overthink things. It should be my job.

It might be different in other countries, but if some Spanish language authority died and made me queen, I’d order my minions to use cuídate in just about every adieu save those with complete strangers. That is, use it with friends, family, coworkers, acquaintances, neighbors, and everyone whom you’ve ever cared about, albeit briefly, albeit barely. I always say cuídate to the patients in the hospital after our interpreting sessions. (Actually, I say cuídese.) Hey, I truly cared about them during that hour and wish them the best. I wouldn’t use it to say goodbye to a store clerk or a new, scary boss, but once we were on a first-name basis and were asking about each other’s family and life, I definitely would.

Just before I got to Colombia, I was in touch with a woman, Renee, whom I’d met in Bogotá a few years before. She’s American, but she’s lived almost her entire life in Latin America. And although her English is perfect, I would honestly say that Spanish comes more naturally to her. I remember her writing me this email that was extremely kind, helpful, and solicitous. And then she ended it with “Take care,” which totally threw me off. She wants me to take care? Huh? But I thought . . . I felt as if she’d just told me to go fry asparagus, that is, to get lost. To me, it connoted “Please don’t bother me again . . . Nice knowing ya . . . Best of luck with your life and everything . . . So long.” Gulp. And then I got to Colombia, heard cuídate this and cuídate that constantly, and I realized that so much Spanish had simply influenced Renee’s English. Once I got on the cuídate bandwagon, I too found it difficult to avoid telling people to take care in English, something I never used to say.

Once I divorced myself from the notion that “Take care” sounds uncaring in English (heavens knows why), I started to fall in love with cuídate and the meaning behind it: You are the only one responsible for your health and happiness, and you are the only one with any control over them. Even if for some reason someone were to try to make it their job to make you happy, they’d fail miserably. No amount of love or force can make anyone be happy. It can only come from within. So, if you want to be of any use to society and other people, you have the responsibility to take care of yourself and do whatever it takes for you to be happy. Other peoples’ needs, wants and expectations be damned! You can’t be of any use to anyone else if you’re just a sniveling sack of low self-esteem and frustration. Take care of yourself! Be happy! Anyone who truly cares about you will insist on these things. They can’t obligate you to live well, but they can at least bug you about it on a regular basis.

I know, I know; I take this phrase way too literally, just like I do with Gracias a Dios. Still, this is another case where I prefer and choose to be a literalist. When I say cuídate to you as we part, I’m actually barking out a command, and I only do so because I really care about you. Conversely, when you say it to me, I sit up at attention and am reminded that, oh yeah, the biggest favor I can do for others and myself is figure out what I need to be happy and then do/get those things. Like, this very minute. Word.

Bueno, ¡cuídense ustedes! Is speaking Spanish fluently something key to your happiness? Well, get on with it already. Are you deferring your happiness to the day that you can go live in Latin America for a few months? What’s stopping you? Is Spanish making your life miserable? Dump the bastard now and move on. It’s certainly not for everyone. If it does make you happy, though, like it does me, I hope you enjoy it this summer/winter/whatever season it is wherever you are. Ah, y si vives en Sudamérica me dices, pues quién sabe, puede que esté en tu ciudad durante mi gran recorrido de la zona en julio.

What about you? Were you already acquainted with cuídate? Are there any Spanish words or phrases where you can’t help but fixate on their literal meanings, even though they’re really just figures of speech or muletillas? Do you agree with me that we rarely say “Take care” in English, or is it just me? If you’re a native Spanish speaker, anything to correct, clarify, comment on or concur with?


8 responses to “Cuídate: A Manifesto

  1. Perhaps better ¡Cuídense ustedes! ?


  2. I don’t get it– did I make a mistake?

    Nice picture :)


  3. No, no–I just thought you would like the picture–and your expression seems so much more public spirited. Nice blog post, as usual!


    • Ehh, I’m feeling a little slow. I still don’t get it. What do you mean, my expression?

      Thanks for the kind words. When I responded to you, I was thinking you were a Swedish friend of mine. Now I remember :)


  4. Only now, am I realizing why I say “Take care”–(“bye” is always so harsh and final). And why in a previous married life, my wife would be perturbed that I would kiss her good night and say “Take care”…

    But my all time favorite from a girl I’d been flirting with: “Cuidate, si no tu, quien?”.


    • Exactly!!! Si no tú, quién? Si yo no me cuido, pues . . . quién habrá de hacérmelo? Y si todos los demás ya están ocupados cuidándose a ellos mismos . . .


  5. About saying goodbye and Spanish influencing one’s English… I was once talking in English via Skype to a guy from US and at the end I said “Until the next time”. That was clearly an influence from the Spanish “Hasta la proxima (vez)” and at first I thought that, as a result, I simply constructed a phrase which sounds unusual in English. Later on, a native speaker of English told that it’s OK, although more typical in writing…


    • That’s interesting. Yes, I sometimes can learn a lot about Spanish simply by paying attention to how native Spanish speakers speak and write in English. I think it would make for an interesting blog post as well.

      As for that phrase, I don’t agree that it’s OK. I would never say or write it, and I’d find it jarring if someone else did. Formal to the extreme.


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