Say What? Local Colombian phrases and Gringo Tuesdays

An ancient question humans have been asking about language:  how much does it shape our perspective?

An ancient question humans have been asking about language: how much does it shape our perspective?An ancient question humans have been asking about language:  how much does it shape our perspective?


…and on a practical note, Como se dice means “how do you say…?”  and is a phrase I’ve been using a lot.  Daily.  Hourly.

I love the Spanish language.  I am enamored by learning another way to communicate, plus I really like the Spanish pronunciation and flow of the sentences.  Maybe it has something to do with my Mexican roots, maybe not.  Nonetheless, I truly feel “at home” to some degree, being here in a Latin American country.

I took 1.5 weeks of a Spanish course which was 5 hours per day.  I wish I could take more classes; I really loved it.  But my work schedule is such that I can’t continue the regular language course.  I hope to set up a trade with one of my teachers who want to practice her English, and of course I my Spanish.  If we could meet just once a week, that would be so helpful to me!

One of my two Spanish teachers, Jessica, when I was attending the Spanish World Institute for a couple weeks.

One of my two Spanish teachers, Jessica, when I was attending the Spanish World Institute for a couple weeks.


Besides lessons, I do actually use the language every day.  Immersion is being surrounded by a language and culture, and I certainly am here in Bogota.  Many people here can understand English to a very basic degree.  The music of north America is prevalent, as are movies, sayings, and graphic t-shirts.  Every single day I see at last 5-10 t-shirts with English phrases, sayings, or brand names printed across the front.  However, actually being bilingual is not very common here.  This means that teaching English companies have a growing market.

I had an interesting conversation with a language school owner this past week.  He shared with me some of his thoughts on teaching another language to people and needing to include aspects of cultural understanding.  This is not a new concept, but does appear to be lacking in many schools and teaching tactics.  Language shapes the way we think, process, and behave.  This is why I’m so interested in it!  Here is a link to a 14-minute TED talk about this very concept.  I found it interesting and helpful- to my teaching English and to my learning Spanish.

Click below to watch and listen to the TED Talk on Language by Lera Boroditsky:


Over the past few weeks I have learned some local phrases and expressions which I find very helpful and also fun!  One reason I love these types of phrases is that literally-translated, they don’t make much sense and sound funny.  We have plenty of them in English as well.

1.  “Dar papaya” – literally this means “to give papaya” (the fruit).  The use is – “don’t give anyone the opportunity to steal your stuff”.  If you’re on the street, don’t pull your phone out and be immersed in using it without being on guard.  On a crowded bus, don’t have anything valuable in your pockets or accessible.  At an ATM, don’t stand there and count your money.  All these scenarios illustrate times that you give a thief an opportunity to snatch away your valuables.

2.  “Hacer una vaca” – literally this means “to make a cow”!  The use is – when you’re out with friends and you agree to pool your money to buy food or a round of drinks.

"To make a cow" doesn't mean anything literal!

“To make a cow” doesn’t mean anything literal!

3.  “Tener huevo” – literally this means “to have an egg”.  The use is – when someone is greedy and not easily satisfied, only wanting more and more.  For example, “mi jefe tiene huevo” (My boss is insatiable…thereby driving us to be more productive)

4.  “Sacar la piedra” – literally this means “to take out a rock”.  The use is – “It really bugs me when…”  For example, “Me saca la piedra cuando las personas caminan muy despacio en el medio de la acera” = It really bugs me when people walk slowly in the middle of the sidewalk.  (This happens all the time in the crowded pedestrian walkways in Bogota!)

"Sacar la piedra" literally means "to take out the rock"

“Sacar la piedra” literally means “to take out the rock”

A few other words and phrases include:

  • Que pena” -In most of the rest of the Spanish-speaking world, qué pena means “what a shame”. But in Colombia, it means “excuse me” or “sorry”– perhaps a stranger interrupts your conversation with a qué pena to ask for directions. Sometimes waiters even use it, almost as if they were apologizing for showing up at your table to take your order: “Y qué pena señor, qué quiere tomar?
  • Me reglas” - In Colombia, “Me regalas una cerveza?” is the normal way to order your beer at the bar, even though you’ll still be paying for it.  Spanish speakers arriving in Colombia might range from confused to offended by the range of things Colombians are asking to regalar them, but that’s nothing compared with the crazy looks unsuspecting Colombians receive on holiday in Spain or Mexico: “Regálame un plato de pollo a la plancha” works in the restaurants of Bogotá and Medellín, but anywhere else it just sounds like you’re asking for free lunch.  Credit to
  • mono” – In Spanish this word just means ‘monkey’ but here in Colombia, this is what they call blondes. I was used to the term”rubio” but it is not used much here. Credit to
  • chevre” – this word is very common here; it means “cool”.  It is way better than saying “muy bueno” (very good) all the time.

This past Tuesday I attended a language exchange I’d heard about from a few different people.  Humorously, it’s called “Gringo Tuesdays“, and takes place at a large bar/restaurant from 5-9pm, followed by a huge dance party that I hear can last till 2 or 3am (yes, on a Tuesday).  The conversation part was well-organized and very well-attended.  I sat at an “Intermediate Spanish” table and had a great time.  I was surprised that there were many native Spanish-speakers there. Some non-native speakers were there to practice a second language (like I was), and some native-speakers were there just to talk and mingle with new people.  I also could have sat at an English table and helped others to practice their English, which I may do in the future.  It’s a free event, though most people buy at least one drink or buy one for another person.

The location of Gringo Tuesdays is a bar/restaurant called "Vintrash"

The location of Gringo Tuesdays is a bar/restaurant called “Vintrash”


Vintrash's neon sign says "Eat, Dance, Enjoy yourself"

Vintrash’s neon sign says “Eat, Dance, Enjoy yourself”


I also want to give a shout-out to a podcast I found called “Real Fast Spanish“.  I don’t pretend to believe that anyone can learn a language “real fast”, nor does this company promise that.  Its concept is that you can learn to become conversational in Spanish much faster than you think by not getting hung up on learning and understanding all the grammar rules.  I like the podcasts because they are 10-15 minutes long and each discuss a particular verb or phrase and its various uses.  They are immediately applicable and I have found I can use what I learn that day in any given conversation with a local, and thereby helping cement it into my brain.  I can also replay them as many times as needed to help me remember!

Many days when I'm walking to meet an English student, or when I go running or biking, I listen to several episodes of this podcast "Real Fast Spanish"

Many days when I’m walking to meet an English student, or when I go running or biking, I listen to several episodes of this podcast “Real Fast Spanish”

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