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I was recently in Mallorca, at a restaurant I address the waiter as "señor".

He was probably in his early 30's, he said that I should not use señor, but another word (which I unfortunately don't remember now), as señor is seen as a derogatory title for anyone who is not of an elder nature.

Is this true? What should I use in future?

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Waiter can be translated as "mesero", coming from the fact that they tend the patrons at the tables -"mesas". –  Omar Salinas Nov 24 '11 at 21:38
    
Did he suggest the word "joven"? That's common here in Mexico. Or "mesero" (waiter) would probably work in that specific situation. –  Flimzy Nov 24 '11 at 22:05
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@OmarSalinas: whereas "mesero" will be fine in most Latin American countries, it might not be the usual term in Spain, where "camarero" would sound more natural. –  Gonzalo Medina Nov 25 '11 at 1:42
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@Gonzalo In Argentina, "mesero" sounds affected, "camarero" is used perhaps only in very expensive restaurants, and "mozo" is the usual word. Probably not safe to use it in other countries. –  belisarius Nov 25 '11 at 2:50
    
In Spain the only word that I've heard for waiter is camarero. –  Ignacio Contreras Pinilla Nov 25 '11 at 7:53

2 Answers 2

"Don", "Señor" and "Caballero" come from nobility titles granted in the Middle Ages. They are widely accepted in some countries/regions, and frowned upon in others. From those three, "señor" is the safest bet, but as you already saw, it is not completely safe.

The same with "joven" or "chico". Not always safe.

I think your best choices are (as already mentioned), "Disculpe" or "Perdone". "Oiga" is understood as an order in some places, and should be avoided if possible.

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+1 for the warning about oiga –  Ignacio Contreras Pinilla Nov 25 '11 at 7:51

"Señor" adressed to someone young is perceived as calling someone old but it's not seen as an insult.

You said he was a waiter so "camarero" would be more correct (whatever his age was) but generally we don't use any specific word, if you want to call's someones attention is usually with a "¿Oiga/Oye?" or "¿Perdone/na?" "¿Disculpa/pe?", if it's someone youg "joven" or "chico".

If it's a woman it's easier because "señorita" it's perfectly fine for someone to young to be called "señora" but "señorito" it's totally out of use at least around here.

P.S, Did you like my little island? :D

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+1 for "Perdone" and "Disculpe" because they are the most polite options to address an unknown person. As well, the waiter can address you as "caballero" if it's a very formal situation. –  Juanillo Nov 24 '11 at 20:05
    
Advice: NEVER use señorito. It is only used for teasing and may be insulting. –  Joze Nov 25 '11 at 11:58
    
"Oiga/Oye" and "Joven" (unless the man is under 20 and only if you are certain) is very bad form. It comes across as insulting or at least makes you look as someone of very low sociocultural origin. And were you in that person's neighborhood, you may not leave walking by yourself. –  vorbote Sep 24 '12 at 15:58
    
@vorbote Where is insulting "oiga/oye?" or "joven"? (better ask than insult someone) Where I'm from is pretty ususal. –  Laura Sep 25 '12 at 11:30
    
@laura even if it is common use, it is demeaning because it creates a Master/Servant relationship. We do not live in feudal nor colonial times anymore. BTW, I don't place this in the context of political correctness which I personally detest, but rather in the context of politeness and respect for others. Each language has its usage and form, from the extreme honorific hyperbole of Japanese and Mandarin to the very relaxed usage of English in the USA (the West Coast in particular). Spanish is not particularly over the top but most native speakers seem to have forgotten the basics. –  vorbote Sep 25 '12 at 16:54

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