Often has it been said that the best way to improve in a foreign tongue is to start dating a local. There is, it must be said, much truth to this.
Even students who, in the classroom, can barely be bothered to string together a coherent sentence, suddenly have boundless enthusiasm for improving their language skills as soon as they chat to a guy or girl they like.
To excel in the world of romance, you’ll need to be able to speak reasonably. In the world of Colombian dating, bad Spanish does not serve as much of an aphrodisiac.
Winning someone’s affections requires you to be charming, funny, complimentary and smooth – none of which is possible if you’re stuttering away in heavily-accented Spanglish.
To help you take your first steps into this world, we’ll look here at a selection of the endless ways that Colombians talk about attraction, dating, getting together and falling apart.
Standard Spanish has a load of different ways to say somebody (or something) is beautiful or attractive. But most of these are far too serious-sounding to be used when chatting among your friends.
Take, for instance, the sentence “Ella es muy bonita”, which is a perfectly legitimate way to say “She is very beautiful”. It’s difficult to imagine a group of guys hanging out, drinking a few beers, saying this about a girl. It would be so formal that it’d actually sound a bit weird.
The following slang-style phrases would fit much better in such situations:
Estar buena / estar bueno
“Estar buena” is probably the most common phrase that guys would use to talk about hot girls. Be warned, though, that it is used almost exclusively to talk about someone, rather than ever being said straight to their face. If said directly to a girl, it sounds pretty sleazy and won’t be well received.
Women sometimes describe attractive men with the phrase “estar bueno”, but again are unlikely to say this directly to the guy’s face. The issue here is not so much the risk of causing offence – a risk which is, let’s face it, all but non-existent – but rather that it would just be a very full on thing to say. Not quite like saying to the guy “your place or mine?”, but not too far off it either.
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Mamacita / Papasito
Weirdly, Colombians use the terms for “little mum” and “little dad” as slang for an attractive woman or man.
A number of other very similar words to “mamacita” and ”papsito” – like “mamasota” / “papasote”, “mami” and “mamita” – also have pretty much the same meaning.
All these terms are a bit more light-hearted than “estar buena” and some girls can find it complimentary to be described as a “mamacita”. This is by no means universal: others find it patronising and lacking class.
Unsurprisingly, guys would again be thrilled to be called a ”papasito”.
Chimba / chimbita (v.)
A highly popular, if rude, way to describe amazing looking girls. Given that “chimba” is also a slang word for the female genitalia, it is obviously not the most romantic description, but it is widely used nonetheless.
Two male friends, for example, might have the following conversation: 1. “Me dicen que su amiga es muy bonita” 2. “Bonita no, ¡es una chimba!” (1. “I hear her friend is very pretty”. 2. “She’s not just pretty, she’s a piece of ass!”).
“Pintoso” is a label applied to a “good looking man” (use of the feminine version, “pintosa“, is much less common). Unlike the previous terms, which are all laden with sexuality, this is a neutral term that does not necessarily mean the speaker is attracted to the person they’re talking about.
Perhaps it’s like describing a man as “handsome” or “good looking” as opposed to “hot” or “sexy”. Even straight Colombian men can be heard using this phrase to (begrudgingly) admit that one of their male friends is good looking.
A slightly less popular slang term for an attractive person, which can be used for both men and women. More literally, a “bollo” is a foodstuff, a sort of bun made from yucca, potato or corn. I guess the implication is that the person you’re talking about is as tasty as the food.
Playing the Game
Dating in Colombia is definitely all about “survival of the fittest”. Competition to get and keep partners is fiercer here than in any other country I have experienced.
In many ways, the country still has a machista culture in which guys are very forward and the women get complimented / propositioned constantly. Throw in some added spice, in the form of the sensual dance moves for which Colombians are famous, and you’ve got yourself a recipe for a highly sexualised dating environment.
In this competitive context, flirting and game playing takes on extra importance. So here’s how you should talk about it:
No doubt you’ve heard the word “conquistar” in the context of the Spanish “conquistadores” who invaded Latin America several hundred years ago. Nowadays, the verb “to conquer” is used most frequently in dating scenarios, where it refers to the process of “conquering” another’s heart.
On reflection, that might be an overly romantic description for a term which is mainly used by guys talking about “conquering” somebody for one night. Rarely is it used to discuss them winning over the love of their life.
Echar los perros
“Echar los perros” (lit. “throwing the dogs”) is a very common expression meaning “to come on to someone” or “to try it on with someone”.
For instance, when chatting about the previous night out, a Colombian girl might complain: “Ese man me estaba echando los perros durante toda la noche. ¡No me dejó en paz nunca!” (“That guy spent the whole night trying it on with me. He just wouldn’t leave me alone!”).
Lanzarse / lanzado
Literally meaning “to throw oneself”, this is a wonderfully visual expression meaning “to make a move on someone” e.g. “el man no se atreve a lanzarse” (“the guy is too shy / doesn’t dare to make a move on her”).
Relatedly, a guy who constantly propositions girls and who is really forward can be described as “lanzado” e.g. “Juan Carlos es muy lanzado. Le echa los perros a todo el mundo” (“Juan Carlos is so forward. He comes on to everyone”).
Arroz en bajo
A phrase used by women to describe men they are keeping “on the backburner”. It refers to those guys that the girl isn’t really immediately interested in dating, but whom she also doesn’t want to dismiss outright. One day, she might find herself a bit bored and will call on one of these gents to take her out.
The literal translation of the expression is “rice on a low [heat]”. In other words, it means that the girl will show the guy just enough interest to keep him ticking over, but without ever really escalating things (or, to extend the metaphor, supplying enough heat to keep the rice simmering, without bringing it to the boil).
Hacerse el/la difícil
“To play hard to get”.
After having his advances repeatedly rebuffed by a girl, a cocksure Colombian man might comment to a friend: “Sé que yo le gusto. Lo que pasa es que se hace la difícil conmigo” (“I know she likes me. She’s just playing hard to get”).
Calienta huevos (v.)
Girls who play hard to get, or who show lots of interest without following through, might get accused by guys of being a “calienta huevos”, or a “cock tease”
Play the dating game successfully and you might find yourself in need of some of the expressions below:
In Colombia a “pico” is an alternate word for “beso”, or “kiss”.
“Darse picos”, then, (lit. “to give each other kisses”) means “to make out” with someone. It is generally used for when people first get together e.g. “¿Supiste que Juan y Julia se dieron picos el sábado en la finca?” (“Did you hear that Juan and Julia made out at the finca on Saturday”).
Levantar a alguien
“To pick someone up”; used in much the same way as the English phrase.
Talking about a guy who gets a lot of girls, someone may comment that “él levanta mucho”. It generally applies to contexts where you “pick up” strangers in bars and clubs etc.
Most Colombians live in the family home until their 20s or 30s and, while there, good conservative, Catholic values reign supreme. Even couples who have been together for years are not allowed to sleep in the same bed when staying in the family home.
This is probably the main reason why “sex motels” have become so popular. Couples of all ages go to the motels in order to escape the watchful eye of their parents (or their partner, if they’re playing away from home).
Many motels bear more resemblance to a smart hotel room or chalet, rather than the kind of seedy venue you would perhaps expect. Visiting them is a common enough activity that Colombians have coined the term “motelear” to describe it.
Comerse a alguien
A slang way of saying “to sleep with someone” e.g. 1. “¿Qué pasó entre Juan y Carolina la otra noche?” 2. “¡Pasó de todo! Se la comió” (1. “What happened between Juan and Carolina the other night?” 2. “Everything! He slept with her”).
A play on the double meaning of the verb “comer”, as in “to eat”, appears in the local saying “El que muestra hambre, no come” (lit. “He who shows his hunger, does not eat”). This serves as advice that, if you want to get with someone, you’ll need to play hard to get.
Estar tragado de alguien
Romance is, of course, not always just about the physical. And this phrase is best used for times when things have started to get a bit more serious. It means “to be really into someone”, or “to have really fallen for someone”.
For example: “Apenas empezaron a salir hace dos semanas, pero el man ya está muy tragado de ella” (“they only started seeing each other a couple of weeks back, but the guy’s already fallen for her big time”).
The literal meaning of “tragado” is “swallowed”, and this has given rise to a whole range of (underwear-related) sayings that play on this double meaning. So, if talking about a friend who is head over heels for somebody, you needn’t just say something dull like “él está muy enamorado de ella” .
Instead, you can opt for one of the many joke expressions, such as: “está más tragado que que boxer de ciclista” (“he is more ‘swallowed’ than a cyclist’s boxer shorts”) or “está más tragado que tanga de loca” (“he’s more ‘swallowed’ than a crazy woman’s thong”).
Much as we’d like to think that love and relationships will have happy endings, the reality is that they are far from always smooth sailing. Listen to the lyrics of pretty much any song from Latin America and you’ll see that heartbreak is apparently a big part of daily life.
There are many ways in which a relationship can go awry, but here’s a few relevant terms you might hear in Colombia:
Montar / poner (los) cachos
A sadly all too frequent cause of relationship difficulties in Colombia is one partner cheating on the other. Locals are most likely to describe this using the above phrase, as in “Él le puso los cachos” (“he cheated on her”).
The literal translation of this expression is “to put on horns” – supposedly to reflect that the cheater has acted in some kind of devilish way.
The serially unfaithful can be described as “monta cachos” e.g. “Tiene novia, pero siempre anda con otras viejas. El man es súper monta cachos” (“He’s got a girlfriend, but he’s always off with other girls. He’s a real cheater that one”).
A “quita novios” (“boyfriend stealer”) is a phrase most often used by women to talk about female rivals that flirt with and try to steal other people’s partners. Perhaps the closest English equivalent would be to call someone a “home wrecker”.
“Moza” and “mozo” are slang words for a “mistress”, and whatever the male equivalent of this would be (a mister?). In other words, it is the person with whom you commit adultery.
For example, you might hear people joking about a particularly unfaithful man as follows: “Tiene su esposa, su moza, su amante, y su novia” (“He’s got a wife, a mistress, a lover, and a girlfriend”).
Desamor / tener tusa
As you’ll already know, “amor” is the Spanish word for “love”. A “Desamor” describes the process of falling in love in reverse: when your hopes and aspirations of a fairy tale romance suddenly collapse.
It is a bit like the English term “heartbreak”, and would be used with verbs such as “vivir” (“vivir un desamor” – “to experience heartbreak”) or “sufrir” (“sufrir un desamor” – “to suffer heartbreak”).
“Tener tusa” is a more Colombianised version of the same thing e.g. “La primera tusa duele, pero no te mueres” (“The first heartbreak hurts, but it won’t kill you”). Survive this, though, and it won’t be too long before you’re out on the town and ready to begin the whole cycle again.
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(Colombian) Spanish: From Zero to Hero
I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but if you’ve been told that by moving to a Spanish speaking country, you’ll “just pick up” the language, then you’ve been lied to. Unless you’re below the age of about 12, there is nothing passive about learning a foreign language. Much as we might wish it were so, having daily contact with these alien words and expressions does not mean that they will effortlessly seep into your brain.
English Words That Colombians Love
Speaking natural-sounding Spanish is all about learning how to use the exact same words that locals do, in the exact same contexts. Your teacher or textbook might tell you the correct way to speak, but on the streets of Bogota or Cali, many of these phrases just won’t cut it. Rather than obsessing over how to say things in a technically perfect way, my advice would be to embrace the local variations and imitate them as far as possible.