Aside from the slang phrases in Colombia, there are some rather strange things about Colombian Spanish that can make it confusing for foreigners – even those that have Spanish as their first language.
Colombian Spanish has always been a very formal way of speaking. Friends refer to each other as ‘usted’, and people don’t say ‘what?’ or even ‘pardon?’, they say ‘señor?’. It all adds up to a very polite society, with some very curious turns of phrase.
1. “Que pena con usted”
One of the most frequently heard sentences in Colombia, Colombians use ‘que pena con usted’ in the way that English people use ‘sorry’, which is to say it’s as much out of habit as it is out of genuine remorse. Not a bad thing, since considering the amount you hear it Colombians would be spending most their time feeling bad for pretty insignificant wrong-doings (like accidentally bumping in to you).
2. Que pecao!
Literally translating to ‘what a sin’, Colombians actually mean this one like we English folk might say ‘bless your cotton socks’. Someone’s hurt? Use it. Little boy crying? Use it. Cute little baby? Use it! You may infer, then, that this is a mumsy saying, and you’d be right. Bless.
3. Su merced
‘Your mercy’. People will actually, genuinely, really call each other that (although not the younger generations).
The rage is building up inside of you but you’re not in appropriate company to swear, so what do you do? You soften the blow of the classic ‘Jueputa’ (‘hijo de puta’), and change it to ‘juemadre’, or ‘son of a mother’. Clearly more acceptable. Also an adequate substitute: ‘juepucha’, which means absolutely nothing.
5. Me regalas…
So normal is ‘me regalas’ in Colombia that you can quickly forget you’re actually asking people to give you stuff for free, before actually paying them. A strange turn of phrase that will sound pretty odd if you travel elsewhere and use it…
Bonus: Con Gusto
‘Con gusto’, ‘con mucho gusto’, ‘con muchisimo gusto’. These are all very common and, like ‘que pena…’ are pretty much used habitually, in the same way you just say ‘no worries’, or ‘you’re welcome’. Considered extremely polite in most other Spanish speaking countries (some of which won’t even use ‘de nada’), it can sound a little odd to the newcomer to Colombia, but as with most of these phrases, they’re just relics of a time when things were far more formal here. These days people are a little more relaxed.
So cogela suave, hombre.