I often think back to the day I hopped off the train from London to Edinburgh, ready for four exciting years of study. But as my doe-eyed grins turned to furrowed brows, my naiveté was quickly revealed: I was stumped! Not because of the driving rain, but due to the countless new sounds and words tinkling around me. All this in Edinburgh, the city most Scots reject as one of their own, it’s so ‘English’! And yet, in preparation for five months of life in Colombia, I managed to only equip myself with a set of oversized baggage, some spectacles of the rose-tinted persuasion and a limited grasp of Castilian Spanish.
So, it was with shock that I met the friendly man at Bogotá Airport Immigration. “¡Chévere!” he exclaimed, upon learning of my plans. And it didn’t take me long to realise that this was a word I’d hear uttered every eight seconds, and that was before I’d even met my Venezuelan flat mates!
Every day, I find myself flummoxed by some word or other, only to be faced with the embarrassing realization that I must have totally misunderstood the last half hour of conversation. The humour of this situation is something I’m beginning to appreciate, now armed with the power of hindsight. So, it is with great pleasure that I share with you my personal dictionary, complete with boring connectives, names of fruits or maybe even swear words (!!).
This week, I’m grappling with the words of bustling Bogotá; next week, another region’s. ¡Diviertete!
Ala: A colloquialism whose closest translation is probably ‘you know…’ or ‘well…’ Can also be used to get someone’s attention.
Arruncharse: To ‘curl up’ or ‘cuddle’. This for some reason always conjures images of two little guinea pigs for me. A sweet idea until you learn of the animal’s role in Colombian cuisine.
La changua: Often referred to as the ultimate hangover cure, this milky, hearty goodness is a Colombian breakfast soup often served with bread and sometimes potatoes dunked inside.
Chino/a: Used familiarly to address a boy/girl (not, as I’d presumed, an inaccurate racial slur).
Colarse: ‘To cut the queue’: a shocking phenomenon for a polite young Brit, but one with which I am becoming well-acquainted, thanks to the glorious TransMilenio.
Chirrete/a: A noun or adjective, this is used pejoratively to refer to someone with bad taste, attitude etc.
Paila: Used here in Bogotá in an exclamatory tone to express the severity of a situation.
La frase bogotana máxima:
“Me arrunché con mi mamá, después de que me hizo una changua. Nos pusimos a ver las noticias y vimos como un chino se coló en el TransMilenio!”
Stay tuned for next week’s equally confused instalment of my Colombianismos: Paisa Edit.
Especial para EL TIEMPO