What is 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; 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 one of the most common ways. Let’s break it down.
You start with hola. Easy. You probably know oye or oiga for “hey,” but this is used to call someone’s attention to something (as in, “Hey, did I give you my new number?”), not as a greeting.
Then you’re 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? 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? What have you been up to? What’s happening?
7. ¿Qué cuentas? ¿Qué me cuentas? How are you doing? What’s been going on?
8. ¿Qué tal? What’s up?
9. ¿Qué hay de nuevo? What’s new?
10. ¿Cómo me le va? Very formal and polite, always heard this either from or directed to older people out of respect. I don’t understand the construction well, but I always took it to express a special and kind interest–I care about you so much that however you are doing affects me and influences how I’m doing.
11. ¿Cómo estamos? How are we today? In two years I heard this only once– from a taxi driver. Apparently has patronizing, paternalistic overtones.
What you won’t hear in Colombia: ¿Qué pasa? ¿Qué pasó? ¿Qué onda?
All of the above essentially mean the exact 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 all are answered the same way: Bien. Todo bien. And then you return the volley.
A sample conversation:
–¡Lina! ¡Hola nena! ¿Qué más? ¿Cómo estás? ¿Qué has hecho? ¿Juiciosa?
–Hola Yadi. Todo bien, gracias a Dios. Juiciosa como siempre, ya sabes. Y tú, ¿qué? ¿Cómo vas? ¿Qué me cuentas? ¿Bien o qué?
Then they’ll talk for a bit, and when there’s a pause, a lull in the conversation, it’ll start again.
–Ah, qué bien . . . Y, ¿qué más? ¿Cómo te ha ido en estos días?
What a carousel! It’s not as bad as it seems, though, I promise. Use these phrases and put your best foot forward in social exchanges. A mere ¿Cómo estás?, after all, does get rather boring after a while. Mix it up!
If you feel that there’s been a flagrant omission, it’s because there has been: ¡quiubo! (which comes from ¿Qué hubo?)– I feel that this word deserves its own post.
Also, a doubt: ¿Qué hay? I’ve seen this listed as a common greeting in Colombia, but I personally have no recollection of it. Is my memory just shot to hell? Échenme una manito, por favor, Colombian readers. Thanks.
_________________________________________________ Non-natives, what’s your experience with these greetings? Had you heard them before? How have you heard them used? Where? Which ones am I forgetting? If you’re a native Spanish speaker, anything to correct, clarify, comment on or concur with?