When it rains, it pours (The Bogotá Post)

My latest column in The Bogotá Post came out a few weeks ago, but with 12 days spent in Nicaragua it’s just now that I have a chance to share it here. I’m posting what I wrote, and I’m including the link to TBP’s website, where you can see the column in its final format. Rain is an ever-present backdrop to this city, and you can come to love it. Especially with the trend of global warming/weirding–Bogotá’s cool, drizzly weather may be something we look back on fondly in decades to come! Enjoy it while it lasts, and use the words and expressions below to sprinkle your Spanish with fluency and colloquiality. Happy new year!


Bogotá is a fairly rainy city even at the best of times, but lately the rain has been absolutely relentless. That’s because we’re in what’s called invierno, a rainy season that’s particularly strong in November and December. In fact, some people jokingly call November lloviembre, combining noviembre and lluvia. It’s said that Eskimos have one hundred terms for snow due to its importance and ubiquity in their culture, so it’s only logical that Bogotanos would have a plethora of vocabulary for talking about rain.

When dark clouds look menacing or you can just tell that it’s going to rain, you’ll want to say Tiene ganas de llover or Quiere llover.

There are many ways to say that it’s raining hard. The most common word locally for a downpour is aguacero. More colloquially, many people call this a palo de agua. You can also say: está lloviendo a cántaros (it’s raining buckets), llueve hasta maridos (it’s raining men), or, está cayendo un diluvio (it’s flooding).

Esta tarde cayó un aguacero ni el berraco, jamás había visto semejante palo de agua.

It rained so much this afternoon–I’d never seen such a torrential downpour before.

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If you get caught in the rain without an umbrella, you’re going to get soaked to the bone. The standard and most common word for this is empapado, from the verb empapar. Of course, there are also a few local ways to say that you got drenched, one of which is emparamado. You can also say, Me pegué una lavada.

Maybe it starts to sprinkle and nothing else. The word for this in Spanish is una llovizna, and informally it’s also called un espantabobos. That is, just a little drizzle to make all the silly rain-paranoid people panic. Espantaflojos and espantabrujas also exist.

No te preocupes, es solo un espantabobos.

Don’t worry; it’s just barely sprinkling.

A key rain-related word to know is escampar. It refers to when it stops raining, when it lets up. It can additionally mean to take shelter somewhere while you wait for it to stop raining, like ducking into a cafe or standing under a doorway.

Nos vamos apenas escampe.

We’ll leave as soon as it stops raining.

Vamos a escampar en ese chucito para que no nos mojemos.

Let’s go wait out the rain in that little hole in the wall so we don’t get wet.

For umbrella, you’ll hear both sombrilla and paraguas here, though sombrilla is more common. Puddles are charcos, and they are legion.

If you read my column a few weeks back, you’ll recall that a moza or mozo is the person you’re having an affair with. Well, this word makes a reappearance with rainy weather in the phrase para moza (or, para mozo). This expresses that the lousy or rainy weather just makes you want to be curled up in bed with the person you’re seeing on the side. It’s a play on words of paramoso, which means rainy.

Uy, este clima está como para moza.

This weather just puts me in the mood to snuggle with my sweetie.

Arrunchar means to cuddle, and the sight of rain always makes locals express their desire to be in bed, either watching a movie or spooning with their partner. This is called a plan arrunchis.

So, you’ve got your umbrella, check, you’ve made your plan arrunchis, check, and now you’re fitted with the vocabulary for any and every rainy situation. A hard rain’s gonna fall, and you’re going to handle it as fluently as a local.

Yo te hacía

I had lunch with a newish friend the other day, someone with whom I’ve gone out several times with other new friends to drink but hadn’t had much time to talk with one-on-one. The lunch place was self-serve, so we loaded up our plates with churrasco, rice, and salad. Except that I skipped the salad because the lettuce looked sad and wilted, and its uninspired bare-bones nature made it look too much like rabbit food to me. Sitting down and eyeing my saladless plate, my friend said to me:

Yo te hacía más de ensalada.

And I had to ask him to repeat it several times because, for some reason, the words just didn’t register with me. I didn’t know that hacer could be used that way.

What was he saying? I took you for more of a salad kind of girl. I thought you were more of the salad type. I had you pegged as more of a salad person. I figured you for more of a salad girl.

Interesting! I had no idea that you could use hacer that way. Later on, he wrote me a message where he used that structure again:

En el diplomado no te hacía tan charlona ;)

During the diploma program I didn’t take you for such a talker ;)

Heh heh. Well, I’m a little bit of everything. The one constant is that I’m fascinated by Spanish, and I can have somewhat of a one-track mind once a new word gets thrown into the mix.

With this usage, hacer means think, suppose, imagine. You’re saying, in my mind I imagined you as a certain way or doing a certain activity.

Te hacíamos en el Perú.

We thought you were in Peru.

Yo lo hacía de ciudad.

I had him down as being a city type.

Pues no imaginaba yo a un señor catedrático como usted usando Linux, yo lo hacía más de máquina de escribir.

Well, I just didn’t imagine a professor like you using Linux; I would have put you down as more of a typewriter person.

Maybe there’s some connection with this usage of hacer and the construction se me hace, which I should definitely blog about at some point. A salad junkie, a mousy type; and how do you picture your favorite Spanish blogger? Don’t worry; I’ve unconsciously invented lives and personalities for all of you, too. And you’re all speaking beautifully fluent Spanish, naturally!

Mercado report

I’ve been reading Eileen at Bearshapedsphere since I first came to Colombia in 2009 and developed a strange addiction to extranjera-in-Chile blogs. She’s one of the few who’s still blogging, and we’re very much linguistic kindred spirits (though her Spanish is oh-so-Chilean, and mine’s very Colombian). Here on the blog, I’m a writer, a teacher, a humorist, and a dramatist–I am not, alas, a storyteller. It’s just not my forte, and I don’t have the patience to work on it. Eileen, on the other hand, is a fantastic storyteller, and she has spun so many colorful and exquisitely textured yarns over the years–in Chile, in New Zealand, in Paraguay, in Suriname, and many other far-flung corners of the globe–that I’ve delighted in getting tangled up in. She was definitely one of my main inspirations for starting this blog, so I encourage you to check her out!

Anyway, one staple of her blog are her feria reports, where she regularly takes pictures of all the produce she bought at the market and reports prices. And I’ve always kind of wanted to do that, always wanted to show you how far your pesos can take you fruit and vegetable-wise in Bogotá. I buy all my produce at the plaza de mercado in my neighborhood, which is about five short blocks away, but it usually makes for one hell of a heavy lug home. Which I don’t really mind at all. I’m sure I could get things cheaper somewhere, but I’m not one to crisscross the city to save a few cents. I always buy from the very first seller, so, who knows? Maybe the guys at the back are where the best prices are at. And maybe I get charged a gringa tax–I don’t think so, but it’s definitely possible. Just putting all those caveats out there in the event that some other Bogotá dweller tells me that I’m paying a fortune for my fiddleheads, making me a real knucklehead. Go ahead–it’s not like it would be the first time or anything.

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5 bananos (bananas) = 2000 COP = $0.85
2 pimentones (red peppers) = 1000 COP = $0.42
1 brócoli (head of broccoli) = 1000 COP = $0.42
2 zucchinis (1 zucchini, 1 squash) = 1500 COP = $0.64
13 papas criolla (creole potatoes) = 1500 COP = $0.64
3 tomates (tomatoes) = 1000 COP = $0.42
4 duraznos (peaches) = 1000 COP = $0.42
4 manzanas (apples) = 3000 COP = $1.27
3 naranjas (oranges) = 1000 COP = $0.42
1 granadilla = 500 COP = $0.21
2 aguacates (avocados) = 1000 COP = $0.42

+ 4 mandarinas (mandarin oranges) thrown in for free (ñapa)

14,500 COP = $6.16 (the dollar is at 2,353)

I’ve never had a head for prices, tracking them from week to week or country to country, but I’d say the prices are great. The peaches are small, and the broccoli’s bigger than it looks in the picture. I usually never buy apples (I decided a long time ago that why would I come all the way to Colombia to eat expensive imported apples when delicious tropical fruits abound?), but today gave in to whimsy. I realized that the only uniquely local produce in this haul is the granadilla and the papa criolla–most of the most eye-catching “exotic” (read, local) fruit here is best in juice, and I wasn’t planning on making any.

So, if you come to Bogotá and find yourself with just a little over six bucks in your pocket, know that at the very least you could buy yourself this much produce. Not too shabby, eh?

As for the ñapa, yes, that always happens at these kinds of places; no, they’re not going to give you a ñapa at Éxito or Carulla. After the produce, I bought some things at the dry goods area inside the plaza, and the girl also gave me a ñapa–a bocadillo treat. Then I bought toilet paper from a lady at a household products stand, and she gave me a ñapa, too. No, not a few extra squares; a piece of chocolate. These are people I’ve been buying from for almost a year now, so I have a nice rapport with all of them. What I can’t find at the plaza, I begrudgingly get at the Éxito supermarket down the hill. And even if they were to throw in a ñapa (which they never would), the experience wouldn’t be even half as nice as shopping at the mercado! More mercado reports to come.

Lost

I misplaced my TransMilenio card recently, and it’s been driving me crazy. Something important that makes city living easier, I’ve had it since 2010, and I even managed to hold onto it the two years that I was back in the U.S. And now I have to up and lose it! I just don’t get it. It’s bright red and should be easy to find. I’ve torn apart my apartment multiple times, though, and it just won’t be found. I haven’t been able to give it up for lost quite yet, insisting that it’s just misplaced. I fear that officially declaring it lost and getting a new one will require rigmarole and bureaucratic hoops to jump through that I’d rather avoid. All signs point to its irredeemable lostness, though, so I just need to accept it, get a new one, and move on.

I’m sure you’re familiar with the accidental se construction in Spanish, which is constructed via se le + verbo a alguien. So if you spill, lose, forget, burn, or do anything else unfortunate to some object, you express it by saying that the object spilt, lost, forgot, burnt, etc. itself and affected you. Who, me? Scatterbrained? No, I would never be so absent-minded so as to lose my keys–those daggum keys lost themselves and inconvenienced me in the process.

¡Se me perdieron las llaves!

I lost my keys!

If you didn’t lose something (or are just in denial, like I am) but merely seem to have misplaced it, your verb is extraviar.

¿Será que me podrías prestar tu lapicero? Se me extravió el mío.

Could you lend me your pen? I can’t seem to find mine.

Here in Colombia, they also use the verb refundir. Supposedly, this verb is used throughout the Andes region, Central America, and Mexico.

Voy a necesitar que vengas a abrirme el casillero, es que a la muchacha se le ha refundido la llavita.

I’m going to need you to come open the locker for me, since the girl has misplaced her key.

One definition for refundir is: meter en el fondo (stick in the bottom or at the back of something), so you can see that the idea of refundir is of an item getting irretrievably lost in the murky nether regions of some theoretical bag or box.

There’s also traspapelar, which is used for files and documents. Imagine something getting misfiled or stuck in some random folder never to see the light of day again, despite multiple searches for it. The verb can also be used for electronic files like emails.

Se me traspapeló la factura, necesito que me impriman una copia.

I lost the receipt, so I’ll need you to print me a copy.

They also say embolatar in Colombia for to lose something, a verb which, if you remember from a few weeks back, can also be used to say that you’re busy.

Se me embolató el correo, regálenmelo otra vez, por favor.

I lost the email; send it to me again, please.

lost

Another little detail to point out: I don’t know about other countries, but here in Colombia to say “what did I do with such-and such?,” you say ¿Qué hice X cosa? It would be like saying, What did I do my keys? And not, What did I do with my keys? Strange, eh?

¿Qué hice mis llaves?

Now, what did I do with my keys?

No sé qué se hicieron tus zapatos, pero te ayudo a buscarlos.

I don’t know where your shoes are, but I’ll help you look for them.

So, there you have it: all the ways to get lost in Spanish, as if you weren’t feeling lost already. Speaking of lost, the best-selling American book and movie Gone Girl was translated as Perdida in Spanish. The TV show Lost was Desaparecidos or Perdidos. If knowing the right Spanish for expressing that you’ve lost something is a poor consolation, pray to St. Anthony–the saint of lost things–quick!

Chespirito

Something sad happened a few days ago that has all of Latin America mourning: Roberto Gómez Bolaños passed away, famously known as Chespirito (little Shakespeare, a reference to his prolificness, talent, and short stature). Chespirito had a variety show where he played several different characters, but he’s most fondly remembered for the show El chavo del ocho, as well as El chapulín colorado. El chavo del ocho was and still is an absolute phenomenon throughout the region: though the show’s heyday was in the 70s, tens of millions still tune in daily to watch reruns.

If you spend time in Latin America and even halfway embed yourself into the culture, it’s inevitable that you’ll come across references to El chavo del ocho, whether you realize it or not. I remember that my first year here in 2009, I went to a Halloween party (dressed as a gypsy) whose costume contest was won by a guy dressed as El chavo del ocho. I had no idea who he was supposed to be: he just looked like a hobo to me. I was so confused, as well as a little indignant that such a shabby costume could take top prize. Saying that he was el chavo del ocho made no sense to me! What the heck was a chavo, and from the eighth what? Here are a few general pointers to know about the show, with no need to actually watch it. If you ever have an hour to spare, though, I definitely recommend catching an episode or two. Think of it as an infusion of culture.

The show was Mexican, and chavo in Mexico means boy. Ocho refers to the apartment number of where he supposedly lives, though I’m told you never actually see the apartment. El chavo is an orphan, and we mostly see him on the patio of an apartment complex. He spends a lot of time in a barrel on the patio.

Main characters: El chavo (orphan), La Chilindrina (friend), Quico (friend), plus several adults.

I think that most of the current love for the show is based on nostalgia. It gets a few laughs out of me, but El chavo is just too woebegone and pitiful for me to really enjoy myself. When it was being shown during the seventies and eighties, many countries only had one or two channels, and much of Latin America was under dictatorships. Something about the perpetual down-on-his-luckness of the beloved underdog and the working-class cast really spoke to people. Trying to describe its almost inexplicable success and appeal to Americans, one Internet commenter described it as The Brady Bunch, Gilligan’s Island, and Charlie Brown all in one show.

In El chavo, the kids all speak in these very whiny voices (and I think the Mexican accent can be a little chillón to begin with), so I sometimes find it a little hard to make out what they’re saying. If you ever catch an episode on TV, though, watch it a for a few minutes at least–it’s good language practice, and you’ll get a healthy dose of Latin American culture in you. Actually, a fair amount of the humor revolves around language: misunderstandings and double entendres, and then the meanings will be spelled out with plastilina for the slow-witted characters who didn’t get them. Great for a Spanish learner to eavesdrop on.

¡Uno de cuatro (el último) no está mal!

¡Uno de cuatro (el último) no está mal!

I watched part of the first episode of El chavo del ocho that came up on Youtube and loosely transcribed an interaction centered on language.

¿Quieres por favor poner las petacas en la escalera? [El chavo then goes and sits on the stairs.] (petaca = suitcase in Mexico; petacas = buttocks in Mexico and the Caribbean) (Could you please place the suitcases/buttocks on the stairs?)

¡Estoy hablando de mis petacas! (No, my suitcases/buttocks!)

¿Qué quiere, que le empuje pa’ que dé un sentón o qué? (What, do you want me to push you so you fall on your butt or what?)

Estoy hablando de las maletas, ¿no sabes lo que son maletas? (maleta = suitcase; idiot, good-for-nothing) (I’m talking about the suitcases/idiots–don’t you know what suitcases/idiots are?)

Ah, sí, los árbitros de futbol, dice Don Ramón. (Oh, right, soccer refs, according to Don Ramón.)

Mira, estas son maletas, [points at his two suitcases on the ground] o petacas, son sinónimos. (Look, these are suitcases, or luggage: they’re synonyms.)

¿Son sinónimos? (They’re synonyms?)

Claro. (Of course.)

Ah, o sea que [walks over to the suitcases] este es un sinónimo chiquito y este es un sinónimo grande. (Oh, OK, so this is a small synonym, and this is a big synonym.)

Voy de nuevo, eh. Esta es una maleta. (Let’s try this again, OK? This is a suitcase.)

Ah bueno, sí, también. (Oh, OK, that, too.)

¿Tú sabes si Doña Florinda ya hizo su maleta? (Do you know if Doña Florinda already packed/made her suitcase?)

No, las compró ya hechas. (No, she bought them pre-made.)

Me refiero a si ya preparó su maleta. (I mean whether she packed her suitcase.)

Ah, pues no sé. (Oh, I don’t know.)

¿Quieres echar un ojo a las maletas? (Could you keep an eye on/throw an eye into the suitcases?)

Ay no, quedo tuerto! (No, then I’d be a one-eyed man!)

Pues, por favor si quieres vigilar mis maletas mientras yo voy a hablar con Doña Florinda. (Look, just watch my suitcases while I go talk to Doña Florinda.)

Ridiculous? Absolutely. All of the humor here centers on words with more than one meaning, as well as expressions taken literally. Great practice for learners, though, and de paso you can learn some very colloquial and Mexican Spanish.

El chavo and Chespirito in general also have left a great legacy on the Spanish language. Here are some phrases you’re very liable to hear in day-to-day life.

From El chavo del ocho
Fue sin querer queriendo. (It was accidentally on purpose.)
¡Se me chispoteó! (Whoops, it just slipped out!)
Es que no me tienen paciencia. (I just can’t get a break.)

From El chapulín colorado (The Crimson Grasshopper)
¡No contaban con mi astucia! (They never saw it coming!)
Calma, calma, que no panda el cúnico (Pobody nanic.)
Lo sospeché desde un principio. (I smelled a rat from the beginning.)

chespirito

These shows are really near and dear to most Latin Americans’ hearts, so I recommend that you at least have a cursory knowledge about who their beloved Chespirito was! The comedian made generation after generation laugh, and people will always be grateful for how he brought so much cheer and love to their lives. Que en paz descanse.