Before arriving to Cusco or Lima, I often used the phrase “Puedo tener.” Originally learning Spanish in middle and high school, I was taught that the verb “poder” meant, “can” or “to be able to” and the verb “tener” meant, “to have.” As a result, I’ve been combining the two into a phrase that many use incorrectly: “puedo tener,” thinking it meant, “Am I able to have.” As I was ordering one of my favorite desserts, un alfajor, in Spanish, I stated, “¿Puedo tener un alfajor?” I was quickly corrected. According to the waiter at the restaurant and Professor Falconi, the phrase “Puedo tener” directly translates to “I can have” or “I may have” without a question mark, but does not directly translate to “Can I have” with one. As a result, this is something that does not necessarily make sense in the Spanish language, and when ordering food, there are several other phrases that could replace this incorrect term. Here are some examples of instances in which an individual can ask a question or ask for something without using “puedo tener”:
• can I have your name please? ¿me da su nombre, por favor?
• can I have Personnel please? ¿me puede poner con Personal, por favor?
• please can I have my book back? ¿me puedes devolver el libro, por favor?
• can I have a pencil please? ¿me puedes dar un lápiz, por favor?
• can I have two salads, please? ¿me trae dos ensaladas, por favor?
“Puedo tener” is a phrase that should rarely ever be used in Spanish—especially when ordering. After this instance at San Antonio, one of the best restaurants in Lima, Peru, I used “Me gustaría” to order food at restaurants, rather than “Puedo tener.” When traveling to Spanish-speaking countries, I hope you remember to do the same.