Category Archives: Greetings

Welcome party

Someone left me a comment the other day, and a teeny-tiny mistake she made gave me the inspiration for this post. I’ve already made it known that I need requests and ideas from all of you (when you’ve written over 200 posts about the nooks and crannies of the Spanish language, the inkwell gets a little dry at times), and mistakes definitely count. Almost all of the posts are born of my own various and sundry mistakes, so I hope no one takes it personally if their own error can serve as a teaching moment for all of us.

This person greeted me by saying “¡Bienvenido!” and then went on to leave a kind and interesting comment. Now, it was fabulous to receive her warm welcome, and I don’t want to quibble . . . but that greeting needed a little tweaking. If I were Bob, “Bienvenido” would have been appropriate. If I were Bob and Jerry, “Bienvenidos” would have been correct. Were I Laura and Sally, “Bienvenidas” would have to be used. However, as I am just Vocabat, you have to greet me with “Bienvenida.” I have a feeling you’ve probably already cottoned on to the reason, but let’s go over it quickly.

Bienvenido is an adjective (and an interjection in this particular case- Welcome!), so you have to make the ending (feminine v. masculine, singular v. plural) agree with the noun/person it modifies, as you are really saying “(you are) welcome!” That’s why she should have said “¡Bienvenida!” when greeting me. When used in general, like on a sign, you’re going to see “Bienvenidos,” as the welcome is extended to everyone, i.e., both men and women.

bienvenidos sign la paz

To my surprise, bienvenir as a verb doesn’t exist in Spanish. There’s only the noun bienvenida (dar la bienvenida means to welcome someone) and the adjective bienvenido with all its gender and number derivations. Also to my surprise, I had never before realized that bienvenido is the exact same structure as in English: bien + venido = well + come.

Bienvenido isn’t solely for people; just like in English, you can welcome anything with the meaning of happily received.

Cinco hoteles en los que tu perro será bienvenido – Five hotels where your dog will be welcome

¡Cualquier sugerencia será bienvenida! – Any and all suggestions would be most welcome!

tarjetas bienvenidas

I vaguely remember picking up on this rule through observation after long assuming that “bienvenidos” is just how you say welcome. So, if you too thought welcome was bienvenidos in all cases, you’re not the only one. Thankfully, it’s a very easy mistake to fix.

Wearing out the welcome? We could always take a cue from Charlotte from Charlotte’s Web and say “Salutations!” A hale and hearty salute to all of you.



Uy, ¿quién pidió pollo?

The list of so-called Colombian phrases goes on, and today’s entry is one I find particularly fun and with a fascinating backstory. Not to be read on an empty stomach!

4. Uy, ¿quién pidió pollo? (Knew it. Uniquely Colombian.)

Literal translation: Ooh, who ordered chicken?
Translation: How did we get so lucky to have this attractive person grace us with their presence?
Meaning: What a babe! Ooh, sexy! What a stud! What a hunk!

¿Quién pidió pollo? is said when a really attractive person walks into a room. Ooh, who ordered chicken? Why chicken and not chorizo? Why meat and not asparagus? Why are we comparing people to food at all? It’s kind of a long story.

So, chicken used to be a luxury food for Colombia’s middle-class city dwellers. Sure, it was frequent fare in the countryside, but its high price (due to high production costs and inefficient production methods) made it a treat for special occasions city-side. Chicken was for the well-off, and to be able to eat chicken regularly meant you had elite status. Elite families could splurge on chicken on Sundays, and non-elites had to wait until the December holidays to savor the delicacy.

As chicken was so expensive, it became common for a diner in a restaurant to jokingly screech Y eso, ¿pero quién pidió pollo? when the check arrived, indicating their faux shock at the high price, one that could only be explained by someone at the table having ordered the opulent dish. Either to identify the prodigal person and stare them down, or to ironically point out that as no one had ordered chicken, there was no justification for such a sky-high bill. But, really it was just a joke, a meaningless line to gripe about having to fork over the payment and to elicit a chuckle or two. Basically, good grief! You’ve got to be kidding me! Though maybe funny at first, the line is now considered by many to be the height of tastelessness and low-class behavior, eliciting only groans. Dude, you ate the food; just pay what you owe and don’t be stingy. No need to be a drama queen about it. Oh, and the eighties called; they want their joke back.

Sometimes the phrase is used to express that a bill for anything is expensive, not necessarily chicken. It’s when you do a double take when the bill comes, incredulously asking yourself, how can that be?

Recién llegado a Colombia, me comí unos patacones con pollo y queso en un restaurante del centro comercial Santafé. Allí me cobraron la módica suma de U$ 12. ¿Cómo? ¿Quién pidió pollo? Bueno, yo pedí pollo, pero me pareció costoso.

I’d just gotten to Colombia, and I ordered some patacones with chicken and cheese at a restaurant in the Santafé mall. The bill came for the totally reasonable amount of a whopping $12 USD. Excuse me? Um, who ordered chicken? OK, I ordered chicken, but it still seemed crazy expensive to me.

Times have changed, though, and chicken is now the cheapest meat in Colombia. Whereas before chicken would have been unreachable for the lowest strata, it’s now a food for the masses. To be pertinent today, the phrase would have to be: Who ordered beef? Or, who ordered pork? Not to mention who ordered lobster, Waygu beef, or caviar. The phrase lost its punch and has largely disappeared from Colombia’s lexical landscape, after its peak during the 50s and 60s. Well, with this meaning anyway. ¿Quién pidió pollo? is still alive and kicking, after being reborn in an entirely different environment. From being used to describe a luxury food, it’s now used to describe a luxury person. That is, when an attractive man or woman walks into a room, catching people off guard.

How to reconcile this new usage with the old one? This gringa‘s guess is that the “chicken” (the luxury item) has arrived, luscious and mouth-watering, and now people want to know what they did to deserve such over-the-top eye candy. Like, people walk in and out of a room or an office constantly, and they’re just rice and beans or a plate of lentils. Filling but nothing to get excited about. But, chicken? And nobody even ordered it? It just walks in to freely bestow us with such attractiveness? Yessiree, count me in. It’s a phrase of admiration. The question also seems redundant to me–it’s not really asking who does this “dish” belong to? It’s more like, um, nobody here ordered such a gourmet dish, but we’ll take her/him! I’d love to hear the perspectives of others–like I said, these are just my speculations.

Some people think the phrase is used because an attractive woman is similar to a chicken: legs, bronzed skin, and what have you. I don’t really buy it, though. And, as noted, the phrase is also used for men.

So, you might hear this when someone (or even you, you stunner you!) attractive walks into a room, or you might just hear it used as a piropo when someone who’s a looker passes someone on the street. It’s like, would ya look at that . . ?

Eh ave maría, ¿quién pidió pollo?

This was bizarrely enough one of the first Colombian phrases I learned when I arrived five years ago. Family members of the people I first stayed with put on some clips of Antonio Sanint’s classic standup comedy routine, ¿Quién pidió pollo?, going on and on about how it was the funniest thing ever, oblivious, I guess, to how iffy my Spanish was. Yeah, funniest thing ever, I’m sure, except when you only catch or understand every tenth word. So, that was a bomb, but I listened to the routine on Youtube years later while working a boring desk job. Much, much funnier that time around. I listened to the routine again last night while making dinner for, um, research. Here’s the part about the phrase, and Sanint touches on both meanings and uses of ¿Quién pidió pollo?

Pero la reina de todas las frases, las que no podemos evitar decir, es cuando uno está en un restaurante y le llega la cuenta y uno mira a los amigos y aunque no se les hace cara, uno dice, uyyyyy, ¿quién pidió pollo? Yo me imagino que en algún momento fue chistoso . . . cuando el pollo era caro, creo. Pero ya no, entonces esa frase ha, ya ha montado, ya ni siquiera es con la comida, sino, uy, ¿quien pidió pollo? Con esa pierna, ¿pa’ que la otra? Así me la recetó el médico, ¿sí o qué?

But the king of all the phrases, those ones that we can’t help saying, is when you’re in a restaurant and you get the check, and you look at your friends, and even though they don’t even think it’s expensive, you say, oooooh, who ordered chicken? I imagine that was funny once . . . back when chicken was expensive, I guess. But it’s not anymore, so that phrase has, it’s taken on, now we don’t even use it with food, but, oooooh, check her/him out! With a leg like that, what do I need two of them for? Just like the doctor ordered–am I right?

chicken lady

I’m pretty sure this phrase is as Colombian as it gets. For better or worse, you’ve just stared right into the Colombian psyche. Food, money, sex, culture: this slice of language encapsulates all of them. What else needs to be said?

¿Durmió conmigo anoche o qué, que ya no saluda?

Another so-called uniquely Colombian phrase from this list, another verdict. Unique or not, you’ll certainly sound mind-bogglingly colloquial and Colombian if you salt and pepper your Spanish with these phrases!

2. ¿Durmió conmigo anoche o qué, que ya no saluda? (Knew it. Not uniquely Colombian.)

Literal translation: Did you sleep with me last night or something? And that’s why you no longer say hi to me?
Translation: Did we sleep together last night or something, and now you don’t think you even have to say hi to me?
Meaning: Hey, how ’bout a simple hello? Is that too much to ask?

I’ve never had this one directed at me; I’m not even sure that I’ve heard anyone say it to anyone else. I knew it existed, though. This phrase is used for calling out someone who doesn’t greet you, either pretending to not see you or just flat-out ignoring you. Of course, we’re talking about someone who knows you, not every Tom, Dick, and Harry who passes you on the street and doesn’t see fit to acknowledge Your Highness. It’s about asking someone if they’re upset and insisting on courteousness. So, what does the phrase literally mean? So, you’re not even going to say hi to me? What, did we sleep together last night or something? And how does that make sense, exactly? I figure that either the sex was really, really bad, and you’ve decided that this person no longer exists for you. (Because you’re embarrassed or embarrassed for the other person) Or, you’re embarrassed that it happened to begin with and are filled with regret, preferring to just never acknowledge this person’s existence again in the hopes that it will be as if it never happened (the encounter may have come about with alcohol, leading to decisions you’re not all that proud of come morning). An unclassy phrase for unclassy behavior–I hope I’m never on the receiving end of it. I have to admit that I kinda really wanna use it, though.

I’d never seen the phrase with “ya,” just ¿Durmió conmigo anoche o qué, que no saluda? There’s also: ¿Acaso dormimos juntos? (Um, did we sleep together last night by any chance?)

In Venezuela, they say things that are extremely similar: Mira, ¿yo dormí contigo anoche?Mira, ¿y acaso yo dormí contigo anoche?, and ¿No me vas a saludar? ¿Dormí contigo anoche o qué?

I also found this one online, and of course that saludai form is telltale Chilean. Chileans, do you also tell off non-greeters by accusing them of sleeping with you the night before? – Y vo’, ¿¿dormí contigo anoche que no saludai acaso?? Maybe it was uttered by a Colombian or Venezuelan transplant in Chile, though, or vice versa.

So, two phrases down, and we’re still hunting for one that’s 100% uniquely Colombian. They certainly abound, just not on these kinds of lists. But since your average Joe has no idea what’s truly unique and what’s used in other countries, you’ll get tons of brownie points for sounding oh-so-“Colombian” with these phrases. If nothing else, this phrase should really underscore just how essential it is to always greet in Colombia, so it’s an excellent opportunity for brushing up on your Colombian greetings. There’s just no such thing as overgreeting down here, but undergreet or nongreet at your own risk.

Juiciosa, redux (The Bogotá Post)

I know, I know–enough with the reduxes! Long-time readers are getting lots of déjà vu lately, and even the fun of saying déjà vu with a sexy French accent isn’t making up for the flurry of retreads. I’m sorry. If it’s any consolation, today I submitted a column that’s 100% new–no rehash. See the original juicioso post here.


When I came to Colombia in 2009, I arrived feeling that I had a pretty solid grip on Spanish. Oh sure, there were words I didn’t know, but I was certain that all my years of learning Spanish in school would be enough to confer me high intermediate or even low advanced status. How sadly naive I was.

The fact was I was seriously deficient in actual interaction with native speakers. This meant two things: 1) I could barely speak in a way that came even close to sounding natural, and 2) My ability to understand native speakers was even more abysmal. My inflated self-confidence took a dramatic nosedive.

Today’s word marked one of those crushing moments when reality began to sink in. One of those words that hammered in the depressing verdict that maybe I wasn’t such a Spanish hotshot after all. Maybe my Spanish was terrible. Now what?

It was my first weekend in Colombia, and I was at the house of some relatives of the family I was living with. An uncle, Orlando, jovial as ever, greeted me by saying something to the effect of, ¿Qué más, mi niña? ¿Juiciosa?

And I said, WHAT?




The meaningless syllables mercilessly ricocheted on my brain only to indicate that I had nothing. It was pitiful. Later that night, I turned to the dictionary for guidance. Now, the dictionary will tell you that juicioso means judicious. In Colombia, however, juicioso is used to mean hardworking, well-behaved, and responsible. As you can imagine, it’s often used to tell children to be good or to describe someone’s work ethic. It’s also frequently used in a less straightforward way to ask if someone’s been working hard recently or been a “good boy” or “good girl,” i.e., staying out of trouble. The noun form juicio is also used.

¿Qué más? ¿Cómo te ha ido? ¿Juiciosa? – Ah, pues, bien, gracias a Dios. Sí, claro, muy juiciosa con mis estudios.

How’s it going? What have you been up to lately? Staying out of trouble? – Oh, you know. Pretty good. Busy with school stuff.

¿Así que al fin no fuiste a la fiesta? – No, me quedé en casa cuidando a mis hermanos. – Ah, ¡tan juicioso!

So, you didn’t end up going to the party? – No, I stayed home to babysit my little brothers. – Well, aren’t you responsible!

¿Qué más? ¿Qué hace? – No, por acá juicioso en el trabajo.

How’s it going? What’s going on? – Just working hard over here.

When you notice your friend who’s typically a lazybones knocking himself out and being responsible, use this word to highlight your incredulousness.

Uy, ¿y ese juicio? – No, hoy me dio por asear la casa.

Well, check you out! Mr. Responsible! – Nah, I just felt like cleaning the house today.

As mentioned, it’s common to hear a parent or teacher use juicioso or juicio with children.

Hoy se quedan con la abuela, así que por favor pórtense juiciosos y me le hacen caso.

You’re staying with grandma today, so be good and do what she says.

Ojo, pues, mucho juicio.

Behave yourself!

I consider juicioso a sort of muletilla in greetings, one of those filler words that usually doesn’t mean very much at all. Are your friends really interested in checking to make sure you haven’t been up to mischief? Would anyone ever confess to not being juicioso lately? The asker is looking for a yes, so make sure you give them one, simultaneously confirming for them why they think so highly of you. A win-win.

Colombian greetings, redux

There’s a new English-language newspaper in town, and I have the honor and pleasure of writing a column for them on all things Spanish. It’s the same beat that I have here on the blog, so I plan to share some old posts and also write new material. I’ll share the columns here as I write them, and even if one is an old post the material will be expanded upon, improved, and double and triple checked with an expert. As always, I welcome feedback. What did I miss in this revamped version of this old post on Colombian greetings? I wanted to write about ¿Entonces, qué? and ¿Vientos o maletines?/¿Vientos o mareas? (though M., my Colombian proofreader, had never heard of that second set of greetings), but, you know. Word limits. And while these greetings are heard all over Colombia, I’m admittedly and inevitably Bogotá-centric, and I know there are some different greetings in Nariño, the Atlantic coast, and everywhere in between. Do share. My first issue (their sixth) came out today, so enjoy!

Bogotá Greetings

What’s one of the most useful things to learn in order to maneuver more smoothly in Spanish interactions? If I were to organize something with a large flag saying START HERE, where would I begin? I guess we’d have to start with greetings. Botch the greeting, and you’ve gotten your whole exchange off to a pitiful, clumsy start (not that these things can’t be recovered); ace the greeting, and that confidence will carry you quite far.

When you read, you begin with ABC; when you sing, you begin with do re mi; and when you run into a friend in Colombia you start with Hola, ¿qué más? Well, that’s certainly one of the most common ways. Let’s break it down.

You start with Hola. Easy. You probably also know Oye or Oiga for “hey,” but this is used to draw someone’s attention to something (as in, “Hey, did I give you my new number?”), not as a greeting.

Then you’re more or less socially obligated to ask the person how they’re doing, usually by stringing a few of these phrases together. In a very unscientific order of usefulness in Colombia, here’s a list of how to ask people how goes it:

  1. ¿Qué más? VERY Colombian and incredibly useful. Illogically, you absolutely can say this first. 
  2. ¿Cómo estás? ¿Cómo está? How are you? The most neutral, universal, and “safe,” so good for exchanges with people you don’t know or to whom you have to show respect. Certainly whenever you have to shake someone’s hand.
  3. ¿Cómo vas? ¿Cómo has estado? How’s it going?
  4. ¿Cómo te va? ¿Cómo te ha ido? How’s it going? How’s it been going?
  5. ¿Cómo va todo? ¿Cómo va tu vida? ¿Cómo van las cosas? How is everything? How are things?
  6. ¿Qué haces? ¿Qué has hecho? ¿En qué andas? What have you been up to?
  7. ¿Qué cuentas? ¿Qué me cuentas? How are you doing? What’s been going on?
  8. ¿Qué tal? What’s up? How’s it going?
  9. ¿Qué hay de nuevo? ¿Qué hay? ¿Qué hay de tu vida? What’s new? What’s happening?
  10. ¿Cómo me le va? Very polite, always hear this either from or directed to older people out of respect. This construction is called the ethical dative, and it basically expresses that I care about you so much that however you’re doing affects me and thus influences how I’m doing. 
  11. ¿Cómo estamos? How are we today? Like in English, this can have patronizing, paternalistic overtones. 

What you won’t hear in Colombia: ¿Qué pasa? ¿Qué pasó? ¿Qué onda?

saludos de colombia

All of the above essentially mean the same thing. Don’t get tripped up trying to translate them or come up with the perfect answer; just learn to let them slide out of your mouth fluidly. They’re all answered the same way: Bien. Todo bien. (If things are so-so, you can say Ahí vamos or Ahí, más o menos.) And then you return the volley.

¡Hola nena! ¿Qué más? ¿Cómo estás? ¿Qué has hecho? ¿Juiciosa?

Hola. Bien, gracias a Dios. Juiciosa como siempre. ¿Y tú, qué? ¿Cómo vas?

Then they’ll talk for a bit, and when there’s a pause, a lull in the conversation, it’ll start again.

Ah, bueno . . . ¿Y qué más? ¿Tu familia, qué?

In this mid-conversation example, you can see that ¿Qué más? isn’t really used to greet so much as it’s filler to help move the conversation along.

Of course, Buenos días, Buenas tardes, and Buenas noches are used depending on the time of day, but these are more formal greetings. As in many countries, Buenas is often used instead of these phrases, a sort of catch-all. (Yes, even in the morning; you don’t say Buenos.) Very typical when you enter shops, as greeting the shopkeeper is just common courtesy here.

But no column on Colombian greetings would be complete without the ever-present ¡Quiubo! This greeting is special enough to not include in the list above, and it comes from ¿Qué hubo? It’s usually followed by another greeting, and it’s very informal.

Quiubo mija, ¿cómo estás?

Quiubo parce, ¿bien o qué?

Once you’ve already greeted someone, you can say ¡Quiubo! each time you run into them afterward, say, at the office. That way, you don’t have to go through the whole merry-go-round of greetings over and over again. You can also say ¡Quiubo! when someone knocks on your door: a casual way of saying, “Who’s there? What is it?”

As you could easily use a different greeting every day and almost never repeat a salutation in an entire month, there’s no excuse for letting yourself fall into a greeting rut. And if you don’t know what to say next, just keep adding more greetings to buy yourself time.