In the last real post we covered change as in small bills and change (change for a 20, for example), and in this one we’ll look at the change you get back after paying for something. Or not–the accuracy of your change not infrequently depends on the “size” of the bills you paid with, at least in Colombia. Here’s some vocabulary so that if you have to be short-changed, at least you can be sure it has nothing to do with you speaking unfluent Spanish.
Far and away, the most all-purpose and universal word for this kind of change is cambio. Super easy.
Then there’s vuelta and vuelto. Vuelta is said in Spain; vuelto is said in most of Latin America.
As I read about vuelta and vuelto, beads of sweat started forming on my forehead, and I felt mildly ill. Vuelta? Vuelto? I’d never heard the words before. How could I be a Spanish blogger and be utterly unfamiliar with these basic words? Because, me? I’ve always said vueltas. I was starting to feel like a crock.
And then I confirmed that vueltas is how you say change in Colombia. Whew! Just one more reminder of how Colombian my Spanish is. Here, we say vueltas, even devueltas. Also devuelta. As well as vueltos. (They obviously delight in being contrarians.) I’ll do my best to drop the s in other countries, but I can’t make any promises. I just don’t see decolombianization in my cards.
If you want to tell someone to keep the change, the most common verb to use is quedarse, followed by guardar.
Quédese con la vuelta. Quédate con el cambio.
Guardá el cambio. Guarda el vuelto.
While researching this, I learned that, at least in Spain, the preposition in the phrase quedarse con algo is often dropped. So, quédate con la vuelta can become quédate la vuelta, or quédatela. Is this construction used anywhere else? (For all I know, it’s used everywhere, and I’ve simply never noticed.) I’m on the case.
As I wrote about in the last post on change, it can be somewhat problematic here in Colombia. An article in yesterday’s El Tiempo stated that Colombians prefer cash as much as they did 70 years ago, at a rate of 48%. Plastic just hasn’t caught on like it has in other developed countries. From the article, I learned the phrase dinero contante (y sonante), which means cold hard cash.
The article mentions piggy banks as a common mode of saving money, and my experience bears that one out. They’re a rather common sight here in homes, so alcancía is a surprisingly useful word to know. If someone doesn’t have enough money for something, they might half-joke about having to romper el alcancía or romper el chanchito. Like many Spanish words that begin with al-, alcancía comes from Arabic. From what I read, the word alcancía has disappeared in most parts of Spain, replaced by hucha. (Hucha means butt crack in many countries, and se te ve la hucha or even se te ve la alcancía means, I can see your crack. Daily parlance for plomeros.) Alcancía is the only word used in Latin America, though. The piggy banks here, at least the ones I’ve seen, tend to be made of clay. I’ve never been so indiscreet so as to turn one over and contemplate its underbelly, but my impression is that they don’t have a plug; you have to smash them to access your money, so it doesn’t make sense to do so before you’ve got a nice little stockpile of funds accumulated. Poor piggies.
I have an update on the last post’s story about me going head to head with an Éxito cashier about my change. Last week, I had another run-in with her. I think I paid in sencillo, but not with exact change. She asked if I had the 400 pesos or whatever, and I said that I didn’t. (I’m kind of fuzzy, but I think I genuinely didn’t have it this time.) And, then, what do you know, she actually gave me my vueltas in such a way that I was given 110 pesos or so above what I was owed. It’s common knowledge that it’s always the customer who gets the short end of the stick in these complicated sencillo situations, but now I see that it’s tit for tat in the larger stores. At least with steely-eyed Lady of the long braids. (Lady is her name–common here.)
Change or no change, at least Colombian money is relatively pretty to look at. I’ll blog about it at some point. And, rich or impecunious, at least you’re now loaded with Spanish vocabulary for talking about change. Don’t forget: BESO! (Billetes en sencillo, ¡obtuso!) That is, don’t forget your change at home. Hell hath no fury like a Colombian taxi driver scorned, i.e., paid with a large bill.