As a foreign person in Colombia all your interactions with people will leave a vivid and long-lasting impression. This condition has a name: it’s called by this author ‘Charlie Sheen Syndrome. This condition is best summed up by the famous saying of the actor: “I expose people to magic, I expose them to something that they will never otherwise see in their normal boring lives…” He goes on: “I may forget about them tomorrow, but they’ll live with that memory for the rest of their lives. And that’s a gift.”
This everlasting party mood is great for a few hours a day. But there are times when you’ll be in aisle deep in a supermarket and all you want to do is buy some sausages and milk, and you aren’t in the optimal state of mind to explain to a casual shopper why you traded in Cancun for a life in Bogotá.
There will also be times when you want to chat your taxi driver’s ear off about the latest Matthew McConaughey film, but he’s too busy text-messaging. This of course is unacceptable. As a foreigner, you should be the center of attention every second you want to be. To get the taxi driver’s attention you can say, “Parcero, parame bolas (Pay attention), I’m talking to you.” This phrase, parar bolas (stand up balls), should only be used by the most intrepid of people learning Spanish, because this phrase almost seems like it should be banned because of its X-rated nature.
This is just one of the many colorful expressions and words in Colom- bia. Another, I often hear is when I complement my girlfriend each time she fills out some paperwork (mostly banking transfers or visa related documents) for me, which I have no clue how to do. “Soy una chica muy pila,” she explains to me as if stating the obvious. The literal meaning of this phrase is, “I am a very battery girl.” In Colombia, someone who is a battery (pila) is smart and organized.
As a fan of DVDs from dubious ori- gins, I purchase a lot of DVDs that are not exactly of paramount quality. So, I have learned to use the following phrase when describing a DVD, which is unwatchable: “Esta chiviado!” This means the DVD was either recorded in the back row of the movie theatre or the actors are speaking in Russian or some other god-forsaken language. In Colombian Spanish, chiviado literally means false. Usually after hearing this word the ven- dor will immediately offer an exchange for another DVD. If he still looks at you with an expression corchado (confused) you can say: “It looks like the guy who re- corded this DVD was ‘scratching tequila’ (rascar tequila or getting drunk) for at least 8 hours before he brought the video camera into the movie theatre.”
Speaking of DVD sales, there is a lady in my neighborhood who has a Laundromat/DVD store who has become like a member of my family. She claims that she can get any title within a week; all you have to do is write down the name of the film, the year and the names of the main actors.
There was one movie in particular that I had been looking for in Bogotá but couldn’t find. The title in English, “Being Flynn” (2013) with Robert De Niro. So, I went to my preferred rental store and wrote down the information. “No problem, I can have that title within 2 days.” When I came back to the store within the allocated time frame, she came to the counter and communicated non-verbally with me by putting two fingers to the side of her throat and said, “paila” (cooking pot). Basically she was saying with the word and the gesture “game over” – for me and my DVD, she couldn’t get it unfortunately.
When my neighbour Giovanni goes shopping he always complains about “los pelados” (the bald people) throwing extra items in the shopping cart, which costs him a lot of extra money. For a long time, I imagined a bizarre super market where bald people hang around the aisles throwing things into your shopping cart. It was until several weeks later that it was explained to me that pelados usually refers to small children. In this case, he was saying that his children (and not a gang of baldies) were the ones guilty of adding the extra groceries, which were costing him more money.
As many citizens of Bogotá will tell you, there is currently the problem of taxi drivers augmenting their meters by pressing a special button inside the cab. This button is usually on the stick shift, on the floor by the gas pedal or on the bottom portion of the seat. How you can tell is that the taximeter under normal circumstances will go up once every 2 or 3 seconds at a constant pace like a heart beat. When the taxi driver is using this button to augment the meter, the numbers will click 3 or 4 clicks rapidly instead of the standard one click at a time. So, if you find yourself in a taxi that is overcharg- ing you, you can say to the driver, “Me dió garra” which literally means, “You gave me claws” or in other words “You overcharged me.” He will then look in his rear view mirror and give you an innocent expression like he has no idea what’s going on. Not wanting to cause a fuss you can say, “paila” and hand over the money for the inflated cab ride.