Colombian greetings

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.

These guys didn’t study their greetings and now have no idea how to get this conversation off the ground

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? 

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22 responses to “Colombian greetings

  1. Hi. Another very useful entry (I think I might actually be repeating this like a broken record… Whatever…). There seems to be one mistake, though. I think what you meant was Que’ Anda?. I actually read this phrase in one guide to colloquial Spanish, but perhaps they were focusing on a different region of the Spanish-speaking world.

    I’ve never been good at this kind of preliminary small talk, even in Polish…
    And the photo is cool as always :D

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    • I love broken records! I’ll never get tired of your accolades, I promise ;)

      I’m not familiar with ¿Qué anda?, but hopefully someone can explain it to us. I’ll keep looking! Is your guide in a print or online format? Are there many Spanish guides for Polish speakers? Now I’m curious.

      The small talk is actually so BIG– learning these little expressions can do so much in helping you sound, be, and feel more fluent. Try them.

      I didn’t know my photos were cool! Thanks… don’t want the entries to get too dense.

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      • La expresión que se usa en Argentina es “¿Qué onda?”, no “¿Qué anda?, aunque no se escucha mucho en estos días.

        Muy útil tu entrada, como siempre :)

        ¡Saludos desde Argentina!

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        • Gracias! Aprendiste algo sobre el español o solo el inglés?

          Sí, a mí tampoco me suena lo de Qué anda? ¿Dónde andas?, sí, se dice cuando uno saluda por teléfono, pero la otra forma, no.

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  2. Hi. I re-checked it, and it turned out that what I actually had found was “Como’ anda?” or “Como’ andan las cosas?” or “Que tal andas?” Are you familiar with these?

    As to learning materials there are more and more of them available in Poland. I originally took the “como’ anda” expression from a Polish series of books for different languages with the common title “Bez cenzury” (“Uncensored”) which presents colloquial (in many cases actually vulgar) expressions and vocab for day-to-day situations (with the focus on chit-chat with friends). I can direct you to their site where you can listen to them or download files (legally, ofc) if you want.

    By the way, I remember seeing “Portuguese” as the second language in your lang-8 profile. Are you learning this one too?

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    • Aha! Thanks for double-checking ;)

      I would say ¿Cómo andas? It’s not a phrase I remember hearing as much as the rest, but it sounds natural to me. ¿Cómo andan las cosas? also sounds fine, but I would probably say ¿Cómo van las cosas? instead. It sounds a little more familiar to me, but of course they are interchangeable. ¿Qué tal andas? doesn’t ring any bells, but, again, completely understandable.

      That is cool that there are more and more materials for Polish speakers. I have to imagine that if you became fluent in Spanish, you would be a pretty hot comodity in Poland!

      Portuguese is a future goal… one day I’ll get serious about it.

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  3. ¿Qué onda? is used a lot by Mexicans, so it’s good to know for travelers to Mexico as well as us here in the US.

    Also, I think the words “parce” and “parcero” are worth mentioning.

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  4. ¿Qué más, Katie? ¿Bien o no?

    Let me add another greeting. It is very used here in Antioquia. I use it every day with friends and colleagues.

    ¿Entonces qué, [name or nick]? (and a handshake)

    And you can add ¿Bien o no? or ¿Bien o qué? at the end. I’d say ¿Entonces qué? is more used among men and rarely used to greet a woman.

    “Entonces” can be used alone too as a greeting and it is often shortened to «’tonces» in speaking: ¿’tonces?. The latter is commonly used when you can’t stop to greet the person, so you just raise your hand, say “¿’tonces?” and keep walking. The answer to this one may be just “bien” or an echo.

    “¿Qué hay?” is common here and I’d say I hear it more often from women than men (I never use it, for example). But you don’t say “¿Qué hay?” but “quiay”. It is often followed by ¿Cómo estás?.

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    • Gracias! Todo bien por aquí. Qué tal Medellín? Esa ciudad me hace mucha falta.

      You know, I didn’t stay long enough to get cool enough to say ¿Entonces qué? or ‘tonces! Sure, I heard them, but I wasn’t in my element enough to be that smooth ;)

      Thanks for the clarification on ¿Qué hay? Seems like I never quite caught it. I was totally fascinated by the use of quiubo, though, especially in Medellín. I love that word.

      Thanks for breaking things down between the genders– those kinds of tidbits are so helpful! You are accumulating quite the pile of IOUs for yourself :)

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  5. Interesante y útil post. He tomado nota de las traducciones al inglés. Casi todo lo que mencionas también se usa aquí. Sólo ¿Qué más? no se entendería aquí como un saludo.

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  6. Was just looking for the typical vocal greeting in Argentina and found a lot more. Thanks for all the info. I am a second semester Spanish Student and am struggling to learn Spanish.

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    • Thank you for the sweet comment! Feel free to let me know if you’d like me to write a post on a specific topic. Any special reason why you’re interested in Argentina?

      Hang in there with your Spanish and let me know if I can help you in any way. Cuídate.

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  9. En España tienen una frase con toda usaron para aprender ingles… “my tailor is rich”. Nadie saben porque usaron, pero fue un parte de los clases de ingles y ahora es un parte de su cultura.

    Uso solo “que tal” para saludos. Podría usarlo en America del Sur?

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  10. I was going to write about this topic in my own blog, but you covered it so perfectly!! I would add mention of “Que milagro!!” which Colombians are always saying if they haven´t seen you for a little while.

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  11. Pingback: Colombian greetings, redux (The Bogotá Post) | Vocabat

  12. Reblogged this on How to.. Bogota and commented:
    Some useful Colombian greetings from vocabat.com. I can say that I have heard all of these a number of times since I’ve been in Colombia…and I wish I’d read this post before I arrived! :)

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