The first movie I ever watched in Colombia was Adaptation. That was in 2007, when I visited Bogotá with my family for three weeks. I watched it in this little mom-and-pop rental store of pirated movies, spending the morning with the owner’s sister. Told to pick a movie to kill a few hours, that was the only one that even came close to appealing to me, and I had wanted to see it for a good while anyway. The title in Spanish was El ladrón de orquídeas, The Orchid Thief, which was the title of the book that the movie is based on, a book I’d go on to read a few years later. The movie, a film about flowers, is one of my dear favorites. How do you make a movie about flowers? That was the main character’s agony (the movie is about its own making). I won’t tell you how he did it, but I will use this as a segueway to talking about how to talk about flowers in Spanish. You certainly weren’t expecting anything less.
So many of my memories from my time in Colombia have to do with flowers. Perhaps it should come as no surprise, seeing as Colombia is the world’s second-largest exporter of cut flowers. In Bogotá, I taught at a university right next to the city’s botanical garden. In Medellín, I went to the city’s famous Feria de las flores in August, a festival that’s the most important social event for the city. As I walked absolutely everywhere in Colombia, I would always try to favor the streets with the most vibrant and abundant flowers on the balconies and spilling over onto the sidewalks. I still remember my favorite street in our neighborhood in Medellín, the one so cheerfully lined with radiant red irises. I bought flowers constantly, both at the markets and from old men pushing wooden carts through the streets. Flowers were given and received, and they were the last thing I ever bought in Colombia, my final goodbye to leave on the table: yellow calla lilies.
Flowers are flores. Easy. They’re feminine, something I used to always forget. Las flores. Practically speaking, you’ll find them at a floristería or at a florería. They say floristería in Colombia and many other places, but florería is used in some countries. Once you buy a ramo, you come home and look for a florero to put them in. Two words that I think sound funny are floricultor/a (flower grower) and floricultura (flower growing/floriculture). I promise not to laugh, though, if you tell me that you’re a floricultor. If anything, I’ll be charmed. You won’t have to be imaginative to woo me, I promise.
Now, three flower expressions in Spanish that I love.
(Tener los sentimientos) a flor de piel – to wear your heart on your sleeve, to be thin-skinned and sensitive
This means that your emotions are just barely contained right below your skin’s surface. You cry on a dime, everything moves you, and people consider you very fragile. You’re delicate and easily hurt, but it’s not necessarily a bad thing. You just feel deeply. Maybe you’re always like this, or maybe you simply become more vulnerable during a certain moment. Outside of emotions, other things can also brew right under the surface, especially in society.
Ser flor de un día – to be short-lived
Like magnolia flowers that bloom and then fade and die very quickly, this phrase refers to things that are here today and gone tomorrow. This post does a nice job of tying the phrase to flash-in-the-pan celebrities who have their fifteen minutes of fame but are then never able to repeat it. As far as music goes, it makes me think of one-hit wonders. Athletes who have one killer performance and then never live up to it again can also be one-day flowers. Maybe your town tries to get a recycling initiative off the ground and there’s a lot of hullabaloo for a while and then it’s never spoken of again, or you go to the gym for a week after New Year’s and then fall off the wagon. Ephemeral flowers, all of them. Better to have flowered once and withered than never to have flowered at all, right?
Echarle flores a alguien – to heap compliments on someone
Not flirting, mind you (that would be echar los perros). Just some good old-fashioned plaudits, which none of us ever get tired of hearing. I know I don’t.
Can you think of any other useful flower phrases in Spanish?
_________________________________________________ Non-natives, what’s your experience with these phrases? Had you heard them before? How have you heard them used? Where? If you’re a native Spanish speaker, anything to correct, clarify, comment on or concur with?