How to Ask for a Drinking Straw (Without Offending Anyone)

Catherine A. Jones
 | July 1, 2024

If you’ve ever traveled through Spanish-speaking countries, you know that regional dialects can turn a simple request into a game of linguistic roulette. One of these slippery slopes, which I mistakenly stumbled upon, is what to call the humble drinking straw.

Ask for the wrong thing, while miming what you want, and you might end up with a baffled look, or worse, a raised eyebrow. A common word for a “straw” in one part of Latin America can take on a whole different meaning in another. You can be polite in one country while just plain vulgar in another.

You could always just drink your beverage straight from the glass, but where’s the fun in that?

But I’ve got you covered. I put together this handy dandy list of words to use to ask for a drinking straw without offending anyone.

10 Ways to Ask for a Drinking Straw

Here’s a guide to help you navigate the wild world of straw requests without causing unintended hilarity, or embarrassment. I’ve broken it down, country by country, with the help of friends and dozens of strangers on Reddit.

1. México: “Popote”

When in Mexico, ask for a “popote.” It’s straightforward, easy to remember, and thankfully devoid of double meanings. However, asking for a pitillo or paja here has a whole different connotation that’s best avoided in polite company.

2. Argentina, Uruguay, Chile, Peru, Ecuador, Bolivia: “Sorbete” or “Bombilla”

In much of South America, straws go by “sorbete.” But be warned: if you’re sipping on the traditional yerba mate in Argentina, you’ll need a bombilla, which is a metal straw designed for the task. Mixing these up might not offend anyone. But if you ask for a “bombilla” anywhere else, you may get handed a light bulb.

3. Spain: “Pajita”

Things get tricky in Spain as well. Here, a straw is a “pajita.” Just be careful not to shorten it to paja, unless you want to ask for a pile of hay or inadvertently make a reference to an adult activity.

4. Central America: “Cañita”

Travel to places like Guatemala, and you’ll find yourself asking for a “cañita.” It’s a cute, diminutive term that translates to “little cane,” perfectly describing the straw’s function. Just don’t confuse it with “caña,” which is a small glass of beer in Spain. “Una cañita, por favor” will get you a drink, not a straw.

5. Costa Rica: “Pipa”

In Costa Rica, a drinking straw is sometimes referred to as a “pipa.” But some say “pipa” is only used when specifically ordering coconut water. For example, you might say, “Una pipa, por favor,” and you’ll receive a fresh coconut with a straw for drinking the water inside. In general contexts, though, it’s better to use “pajilla” to avoid any mix-ups.

6. Venezuela, Colombia, Cuba: “Pitillo”

In Venezuela, straws are called “pitillos.” This one sounds fun and harmless, but it’s another term you don’t want to mess up. Avoid saying “pipa” though, because it means smoking pipe here. Stick to “pitillo,” or you might find yourself explaining that you don’t, in fact, want to smoke through a straw.

7. Nicaragua, Colombia, Cuba  — “Absorbente”

Some say this is the fancier alternative to “pitillo” in places like Colombia and Cuba. That’s somewhat true unless you request an absorbente in Brazil. That would mean you’re politely asking for a maxi pad.

8. Puerto Rico — “Sorbeto”

This Caribbean island mixes things up by using the word “sorbeto” which means dessert or pastry anywhere else. This is like the way to go in Puerto Rico, but, in most countries, you’d be asking for dairy-free ice cream. Oh, and don’t ask for a “pitillo” here. You’d be asking for a marijuana cigarette.

9. Dominican Republic: “Calimete”

In the Dominican Republic, you’ll need to ask for a “calimete” if you want a straw. This term is unique to the island and sounds almost whimsical. Just don’t confuse it with caña or a paja. (Trust me on this one.)

10. Panama: “Carrizo

In Panama, a drinking straw is commonly referred to as a “sorbeto” but it can also be a “carrizo.” So, whether you ask for a sorbeto or a carrizo in Panama, you should be understood just fine. It’s not a good idea to ask for a “pajita.”

Tip: The Universal “El Tubito”

When all else fails, and you’re not quite sure which regional term to use, you can always resort to the trusty fallback: el tubito. It literally means “the little tube,” and while it might sound a bit childish, it’s pretty much guaranteed to get your point across without offending anyone. Because the last thing you want to do is say the wrong word for straw and mime what you need. I found this out the hard way. 

Featured photo of straws courtesy of Deposit Photos.

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