August brings the famous “Feria de las Flores” (or “Flower Festival”) to the city of Medellin.
That name makes the thing sound extraordinarily dull, but don’t be fooled. There’s plenty of fun to be had over the following few days.
While you will find a couple of events which are rather flower-heavy, most are not. Instead, music, celebration and fun take centre stage, all washed down with a healthy serving of “guaro” (or “aguardiente“), the favoured local tipple.
You can find plenty of information on all the events involved at this year’s feria on other sites, but I wanted to look quickly here at a curious linguistic phenomenon that also emerges briefly along with the festival.
That is, the bizarre psuedo-greeting of “¿mucha feria o qué?” — an expression that can be used in Medellin for but a few days a year before it disappears again until the next round of celebration.
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What are these paisas on about?
Chat to your Colombian friends in Medellin during the festival and you’ll most likely find that they’ve ditched the standard “¿cómo estás?” type of small talk. Instead, they favour the following sort of conversation starter:
¿Qué más? ¿Todo bien? ¿Mucha feria o qué?
The first two questions (meaning something like “How’s it going? All good?”) will probably be familiar to you if you’ve been in Colombia longer than a week or so. They’re both extremely common. Yet, only the more seasoned Colombia follower will recognise the last.
Translating literally as “Lots of festival or what?”, “¿Mucha feria o qué?” is, on the face of it, a ridiculous way to phrase a question. But this is the way that our paisa friends, Medellin’s local residents, would express the more grammatically coherent, but much wordier, enquiry: “Have you been going to a lot of the events in the Flower Festival?”.
Doing the same is certain to earn you some serious respect among the locals for your Spanish skills.
¿Mucho [whatever] o qué?
Admittedly, you’ve only got a very narrow window to use this expression with your paisa buddies. Work into conversation a week or more after the festival and you’ll sound like a bit of a wierdo.
The good news is that once the feria is all done and dusted you can still use this sentence structure to ask about other aspects of people’s lives. For instance:
¿Mucha rumba o qué?
Would be “Have you been partying a lot?” (utilising, you’ll notice, Colombians preferred word for “fiesta, which is “rumba“). Alternatively, you could ask, to a more serious type:
¿Mucho trabajo o qué?
Which would mean “Have you been working a lot lately?” / “Have you got a lot of work on?”. While:
¿Mucho guayabo o qué?
Would be the way to ask if someone was really hungover after a night out on the town.
I suspect your Spanish teacher may not be over the moon with the way you’re deliberately flouting Spain’s accepted grammar rules with these questions, but that needn’t bother you too much.
Your Colombian friends, on the other hand, will think you a true language hero.
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Colombian expressions explained: ‘Pelar el cobre’
Inspired by a recent reader query, I thought I’d add some new posts explaining more advanced local expressions, which you may come across after talking with Colombians for a longer period. One is “pelar el cobre” or “mostrar el cobre“, which is broadly similar in meaning to the English “to show one’s true colours”.
How Do Colombians Rate Your Spanish?
The whole time you’re in Colombia — studying, attending classes and practicing your Spanish out in the big wide world — you should be constantly improving. I’ve always found Colombians to be very tolerant of those still brushing up their Spanish. Between friends, however, the opinions expressed are more honest and verge on the brutal.