After even a short period of time in Spain, we bet you’ll be wondering about the meaning of no pasa nada is―if you haven’t heard this expression before. No pasa nada is such a common phrase to hear in Spain and it feels so integral to the Spanish way of life that we don’t want to translate it incorrectly for you. As such, let us walk you through some explanations and comparisons first, then we’ll provide some practical examples for how you, too, can use no pasa nada in your everyday life.
Some Translations to English
No pasa nada literally translates to “nothing happens.” However, as you’ll find with many native expressions, sometimes in order to truly get the meaning in one language you have to just stop translating and try to take in its essence in the language and context it is used.
In that vein, no pasa nada most closely correlates with “don’t worry about it” or “it doesn’t matter.” However, we want to be clear that, unlike those two phrases in English, no pasa nada is never said sarcastically or ironically. It TRULY means that there’s no problem and the other person should brush it off―it’s all good!
It can be applied to so many different situations: if someone bumps into you, someone’s dog jumps up on you but you love dogs, someone was too busy to answer your messages earlier in the day, the waiter forgot to bring your glass of water, someone needs to be comforted for potentially saying something stupid to a crush, a child falls down and is about to cry…we think you get the idea.
Understanding No Pasa Nada in Spain
Not only will you hear this phrase 100 times a day if you’re around Spaniards, we think it’s an important expression to know because it kinda sums up the Spanish way of looking at things. In general, the people here are more laid-back and less ‘tightly-wound’ than we are in the U.S., for example. Some things that we might take very seriously or think about as having dire consequences are just not as severe here. In that way, understanding just how many situations this saying can be applied to also means understanding just how many circumstances can be taken more lightly here.
Don’t get us wrong, you can’t fail to turn in your final project and expect your professor to “be all no pasa nada about it.” Still, there’s something fresh and freeing about living among people who are more likely to respond with this phrase than any other when you’re worrying that there’s a problem at hand.
We also like to think of no pasa nada in terms similar to Hakuna Matata because it does feel like this magical motto that we got introduced once we began living in Spain. This concept has helped us loosen up and take ourselves less seriously. It has been a comfort in moments when we needed it. And it will always be remembered with a smile, especially for Dani who thinks about her two year old ‘host niece,’ Sofía, responding with this when she was showering and told Sofía she couldn’t come in. Dani had explained she was naked but the little girl burst through the door anyways and cried “¡¡no pasa nada, chica!!” If that’s not a fine example of the no pasa nada mentality, we don’t know what is!
Examples in Context
Imagine you’re waiting for your friend to meet for a coffee but she is 15 minutes late. You start scrolling through Instagram on your phone and another 10 minutes later she shows up.
A: Lo siento mucho, perdí el primer autobús y el segundo estuvo parado cinco minutos porque estaban haciendo el cambio de conductor.
B: ¡No pasa nada! ¿Vamos?
A: I am so sorry, I missed the first bus and the second was stopped for five minutes waiting to change the driver.
B: Don’t worry! Let’s go?
Alternatively, you may want to use this expression in a bar or restaurant when the exact thing you order is not available.
A: Buenas tardes, ¿qué os pongo?
B: Buenas tardes. Dos tercios de Alhambra 1925, por favor.
A: Lo siento, nos hemos quedado sin tercios.
B: Vale. Pues, no pasa nada. Ponnos dos cañas.
A: Good afternoon, what would you like?
B: Good afternoon. Two bottles of the Alhambra 1925 beer please
(note: “tercio” refers to the size of the bottle, one third of a liter).
A: I’m sorry, we don’t have any of those at the moment.
B: Okay. Well, no worries. Bring us two cañas (small tap beers).
The Negative Side of No Pasa Nada
If you’re from a native culture like ours, you may look at the first example and think “They were twenty five minutes late and it’s supposed to be no big deal!?” We get where you’re coming from. While we would remind you to examine the situation through a lens of cultural competence to better understand the expectations in Spain, we also understand that this no pasa nada mentality can be trying for us non-natives to accept at times.
We do occasionally feel frustrated when things that are important to us are not taken as seriously as we would like. Usually, it’s something small like this or a friend asking to push back the time of a meeting when we’ve already left the house. Other times, it’s something bigger like having to call your landlord three times about a leaky faucet or mold growing in your apartment and being told no pasa nada, they’ll send someone to look at it next week.
Adjusting to this mentality can definitely be a stumbling block while living abroad in Spain. We explore this further and how we are personally coming to terms with no pasa nada in this post. We hope our honesty is a comfort to you if you’re having difficulties adapting to no pasa nada as well.
We hope this answers all your questions about this especially common expression. We have a feeling that, with time, no pasa nada will take on its own meaning for you. However, we hope that these insights and examples will help you get going with a working knowledge of what Spaniards mean when they say this so often!