Archive for May, 2013

I Speak Colombian – Words And Phrases That Will Help You Better Understand Colombia

May 30, 2013

Probably the best thing about speaking Spanish in Colombia is that you can don’t have to really learn the names of any Colombian men. Instead you can just refer to any man you have met on the street as maestro. In English, maestro is reserved for an artist who has their work displayed in many different museums around the globe or for someone who has been paid to conduct a symphony. Here in Colombia, you can call someone a maestro just because you like the quality of chips he is selling out of a shopping cart near the mini stop.


An everyday phrase here in Colombia is, “Hay un inconievente” (There is an inconvenience). In English this phrase would be used if maybe the meal you ordered at a restaurant is going to take 5 or 10 minutes longer than expected to arrive to your table. The waiter would tell you, “Sorry sir, there is an inconvenience, the pork sandwich you ordered is going to take an extra 10 minutes before it will be ready.”

Good luck if you are in a hospital in Colombia and the doctor tells you, “Hay un inconievente.” This no doubt means that what they thought was just a little routine acid reflux really means that your kidneys have exploded and you have 3 minutes to live.

Also in Colombia, the customer is made to feel almost like royalty. This example is illustrated when you enter the small corner grocery store and the sales clerk says to, “A sus ordenes su merced” (At your service your mercy).

You thank the clerk for such a warm welcome and try to explain to her that really you aren’t anyone important. You actually just came in to buy $1,500 pesos ($.75USD) worth of that good Bocatto ice cream and are not worthy of being called “Your mercy.” To this the clerk will promptly respond, “Para servirle” (another cute way to say ‘at your service’).

Even the older gentleman with the fleet of dogs by the bus station is always asking “Me colabora?” (Would you like to collaborate with me?) Like we should get together and work on a project, just him and me. When I inform him that I really already have enough business partners in place and he should use the capital he was going to invest in my company to maybe buy some more food for his dogs. He then looks at me like I am the one who doesn’t know what he’s talking about.

At home, I always hear my girlfriend Kary say strange expressions over the phone like, “Mommy, make sure to put all you books in your backpack for school tomorrow,” or “Mommy, make sure not to spend all your money on candy, save it for your lunch.”

I would then ask my girlfriend two questions,

#1) I didn’t realize your 53-year old mother was still in school and #2) Isn’t it a little strange to lecture your own 53-year old mother on how she should be spending her money?

“When I say Mommy, I am referring to my daughter, not my actual mother.”

“Oh ok, that’s clear,” I would reply.

Another strange occasion involving my girlfriend’s daughter arose when she showed me a text message she sent to her daughter, “Mommy, don’t let the other girls ride you in school.” (Mommy, no dejes que te la montan en la escuela).

“Ok, I understand the mommy part now, that’s clear. I am a little confused about your daughter being ridden around like livestock while at school. I thought she was going to private school.”

“No, te la montan, is referring to when the other girls pick on my daughter at school.”

A common occurrence when you are talking to Colombians in English is that they will start off telling you a story, for example; “I was at the quick stop and a large man with a gold chain, a leather jacket and many tattoos asked if I help him give his car a jump”….long pause….You then see, by the look of terror and shame, on your Colombian friend’s face that the needle has slipped off of his record. He politely makes eye contact with you and says, “The dove has left me” (Se me fue la paloma). This means that whatever he was going to say he forgot or isn’t sure of the correct way to express his idea.

Another widespread turn of phrase to be heard in Colombia happens when you are having trouble hearing the other person you are talking on the phone. And, to make sure that the line hasn’t been disconnected you ask, “Are you still there Jhon?”

Jhon then replies, “Sizas.”

Suiza? (Switzerland?). Are you talking about bank accounts?” you ask Jhon.

“No, sizas just means ‘yes’ in Colombian Spanish.”

Another expression that fascinates many foreign people is to hear a Colombian say, “Me saca la piedra” (It takes the rock out of me).

This is usually heard when a Colombian goes to the corner store to pay his water bill (via the online bill-paying teller, located at most grocery stores). As the clerk starts entering the billing information, the machine spits out a ticket that says “error.” The clerk reads the ticket and calmly informs the customer that his billing information still isn’t in the system even though the bill arrived to his house four days ago by mail, he will have to come back to the grocery the next day to see if his billing information is in the system. He then becomes angry and yells, “Me saca la piedra!”

It also works the other way for Colombians who are learning English. Most are very surprised to learn that in English, we don’t have a gender-specific way to say, “I have to go pee.” In Colombia, this isn’t an issue. Colombians here have gender-specific ways to express the fact that they need to go to the bathroom. If you are a woman you say, “Me estoy haciendo chichi.” If you are a man, you can say, “Me estoy haciendo pipi.” Needless to say, it is never possible or correct for a woman to say “Me estoy haciendo pipi” or for a man to say, “Me estoy haciendo chichi.”

The final vocabulary words, perfectly describe my buying habits when I am at the corner tiendita (mom and pop grocery store). Instead of paying $1,600 pesos ($.80USD) for the Tutti Frutti quality juices, I like to save a $1,000 pesos ($.50USD) and buy the lowest quality juice in the store which is Tangelo, which is the Colombian version of Sunny Delight, except with twice the preservatives and half the fruit juice.

When I bring the Tangelo “juice” back to my house and put it in the refrigerator, my girlfriend Kary always scolds me for being an incredible cheapskate. She says to me, “No seas chichipato (Don’t be cheap). Pay the extra $1,000 pesos and buy something that isn’t going to dye your stomach a different color.

“But honey, you won’t believe the price I got on this juice.”

Tu eres muy tacano. (You are so cheap). I don’t want this imitation fruit juice in my house.”

Even the names of certain countries are in limbo in Colombia.  Like English, there is more than one name for Holland.  It isn’t solely referred to as Holanda. But, the other name for Holland isn’t similar at all to Netherlands, when referring to this country famous for its coffee shops, Spanish speakers refer to as “Lower Counties” or Paises Bajos.  Even though it is only one country and it isn’t in the south of Europe.

My favorite time to marinate in Colombian Spanish is while listening to Colombian grandmothers talk to their grandchildren. They are all so affectionate towards their grandchildren and have invented a slough of loving expressions that really crack me up. To get a further explanation on how these grandmothers actually talk, my Colombian girlfriend Kary called her grandmother in Cartagena via Skype so I could hear first-hand this special vocabulary her grandmother uses with her favorite granddaughter.

“Hi preciosa (precious), How is my dulce cielo (sweet heaven), my nena (babe), my niña (little girl)?” asks Kary’s grandmother.

“Good grandmother, how are you?” asks Kary.

“Missing you, mi turron de azucar (my chocolate dessert). How are you feeling mamita (little mama), mi vida (my life), mi corazon (my heart), mi muñeca (my doll), mi chiquita (my little girl)? You aren’t too skinny are you? I hope you are eating well.”

“Yes grandmother, I am eating eggs for breakfast every morning and lots of fruits and vegetables,” responds Kary.

“Oh course you are, you are so beautiful. I love you so much. But please luz de mis ojos (light of my eyes), anda siempre por la sombrilla (stay out of dangerous situations). I am making you a beautiful dress for your next visit to Cartagena.

“Thank you grandmother,” responds Kary.

“Ok, mi preciosura (something more precious than precious). I love you so much and please don’t talk with strangers mi negrita (my little brown girl). Ciao.” (Sometimes, Colombians grandmothers have tendency to forget their granddaughter are no longer 8-years old.)

Even though this author had one of the top 10 grandmothers in North America in terms of love, support and advice, this author stills feels somewhat neglected by the fact that his grandmother never referred to him as “my sweet heaven” or “the light of my eyes.”

In any case, while in Colombia this author still has a pretty good chance that someday a Colombian taxi driver may actually refer to him as maestro.

When the country of Peru is mentioned, one imagines a peaceful scene of an Andean alpaca grazing along an Incan stone wall. When Ecuador is brought up, we imagine a rain forest panorama of frogs jumping off branches while butterflies mate in the background. When Colombia is mentioned, we envision a post-apocalyptic city full of overturned buses, being pillaged by men in ski masks. It is obvious which country any rational person would seek to avoid while searching for an internet bride.

“48,000,000 Colombians Can’t Be Wrong” is a true adventure story about a 37-year-old socially-awkward man who decided that the best way he could deal with a life sentence of microwavable burritos and 10-hour Facebook marathons was to look online for a girlfriend in Colombia and then hop on a flight to Colombia’s capital in pursuit of a woman he has never met.

During his first month in Bogota, Brian falls in with two white, self-assured backpackers who the author describes as, “…not the kind of guys who pump the brakes before going through an uncontrolled intersection.” He is then nearly kidnapped during an encounter with a woman he met online, almost becomes business partners with a Korean man in the “diamond business” and is forced to sleep in the DVD room of his hostel due to lack of funds.

Brian quickly regroups after his first month and auditions for the part of “congressional aide” in a Colombian feature film called “Left To Die.” He then lands a job as a writer for an English-language newspaper where his first interview is with a “suspected undercover CIA agent.” Brian then gets thrown off a TV set for refusing to take off his shirt from under his police uniform. While Brian is not getting thrown off TV sets, he marvels at all the discarded construction materials Colombians throw into pot holes to lessen their depths. Because of this strategy, a bus going over one of these open trenches (full of construction materials) will occasionally sling a chest-high brick through a group of panic-stricken pedestrians.

Brian sincerely believed this trip would put him on a track towards a life of excitement, intrigue and exotic women, far from his increasing first world debt. Instead, he unexpectedly falls into a job as an extra in a Colombian soap opera, has panic attacks, watches other gringos lose their marbles and blows half his paycheck on bootlegged DVD’s. Along the journey, he chronicles his friendships, the deranged ex-pats he meets, and his struggles/triumphs, including one fateful night in a Israeli restaurant that would change his life forever.

To view the complete book, “48,000,000 Colombians Can’t Be Wrong,” go to …*Version*=1&*entries*=0


Red Hot Chili Peppers, Scar Tissue, Orlando, George Clinton and Rehab

May 12, 2013

ImageThe relationship between lead singer of the Red Hot Chili Peppers Anthony Kiedis and guitarist John Frusciante is similar to Kiedis’ relationships and Frusciante’s relationships with drugs; on again, off again. John Frusciante in a lot of ways probably reminds Kiedis of himself. The fact of the matter is that Frusciante has been on drugs on and off for at least 15 years.

Frusciante started his first term with the Chili Peppers in 1988. Fruscinate was content to be the guitarist for an obscure funk band that partied during the week. But, after the release of Blood, Sugar, Sex, Magik in 1991, the whole dynamic changed. Frusciante was blindsided by instant fame, and struggled to cope with it. Soon after the album’s release, he began to develop a dislike for the band’s popularity. Kiedis recalled that he and Frusciante used to get into heated discussions backstage after concerts: “John would say, ‘We’re too popular. I don’t need to be at this level of success. I would just be proud to be playing this music in clubs like you guys were doing two years ago.'”

He finally dropped out of the band in May of 1992 during their Japanese tour.

He came back to the band in 1998, following rehabilitation for heroin addiction and lasted until 2009 before he got back into drugs and quit the band for the second time. The second relapse was no surprise to Kiedis. His response was, “Mentally, John checked out 13 years ago.”

The Red Hot Chili Peppers were strangers to Human Resources problems. The Chili Peppers have gone through three different drummers until they finally found Chad Smith through a friend of the band. This friend claimed Smith was the best drummer she had ever seen, that he ate drums for breakfast. The band agreed to audition Smith, however he was late and the last to audition. Kiedis recalled the first time he saw Smith by saying, “I spied this big lummox walking down the street with a really bad Guns ‘N Roses hairdo and clothes that were not screaming I’ve got style”.

Smith was a six-foot three-inch tall drummer who, according to Flea, “lit a fire under our asses,” from the moment they started jamming, Smith and Flea instantly clicked. The band knew they had their guy. Smith was a hard-hitting musician the Chili Peppers believed they would create a strong relationship with. Kiedis later said the audition with Smith “left the band in a state of frenzied laughter, that we couldn’t shake out of for a half an hour”. Smith was so much different from the other three. Kiedis and Flea were heavily influenced by the punk rock, where Smith’s taste in heavy metal music and biker appearance went against their punk rock views. Kiedis informed Smith he would be hired on one condition. As an initiation to the band, Smith had to cut his long heavy metal looking haircut. Smith refused though Kiedis wasn’t about to argue with the much larger Smith. Smith was hired in November 1988, performed a few shows in December of that year and three months later was in the studio working on the band’s next album.

The band had already written approximately 70 percent of the album by the time the group traveled to Michigan to record the album. Clinton decided that the band would spend a month with him before recording to bond and create ideas for new songs. Before renting a house of their own, the group members stayed in Clinton’s house in the village of Brooklyn, about an hour away from Detroit, for a week.  The band was excited to live with Clinton, but as soon as Kiedis moved in, he began experiencing severe heroin withdrawal, and became very ill. He attempted to offset his desire for heroin by using cocaine instead, but his relief was short-lived. After a few days, however, his symptoms subsided and he was able to join the group in playing music and connecting with Clinton. The Red Hot Chili Peppers felt a strong chemistry with Clinton and enjoyed his quirky personality and storytelling abilities. After a week of living with him, the band moved into a house on a nearby golf course.

The Freaky Styley album was recorded at United Sound Studios in Detroit. During the recording of the album the band and Clinton began using copious amounts of cocaine together, which had a negative effect on the band’s overall health.

It got so bad at one point that George Clinton’s Eastern European drug dealer actually came to the studio to collect on the debt owed to him.

“Look around at all this studio equipment, does it look like I am strapped for cash? Once we cut this album (Freaky Styley) I am the first mother….. to get paid and then you will be the second person who gets paid,” said George to his Eastern dealer.

The dealer brought some muscle with him and refused to leave the studio. George asked the dealer what it was going to take to get the dealer out of the studio so the band could continue to record the album. The dealer was really interested in the recording business and wanted to be on the album.  The track “Yertle the Turtle,” as stated by Kiedis in his autobiography, “Scar Tissue,” starts with the spoken lyrics “Look at that turtle go bro.” and repeats throughout the song. These lyrics were sung by the Eastern dealer.

When the time came for Kiedis to record his vocals, he decided to abstain from cocaine use for two weeks, an experience he likened to “deciding to be celibate when you’re living in a brothel.”

Flash forward to 1998 when I got my first chance to see the Red Hot Chili Peppers in concert. They came to Paradise, California and played at the “Field of Dreams.” The show was on a Wednesday night and the price was $25. I was nervous about going to a venue that was nearly 25 miles from where I lived in a field somewhere. I also was a little bummed after hearing their latest album “Aeroplane” which didn’t meet my expectations. The additon of Dave Navarro/relapse of Kiedis into heroin brought a strange cloud over that release.

Fourteen years later I still have regrets I missed that concert.  So I was very excited about going to the first date of their latest tour in Orlando with my co-worker Don Bayer.  Don was one of the few employees over 30. When Don was younger he had gotten a job working as an extra on “Baywatch” for two episodes. Since then he had done pretty much every job; life guard, substitute teacher,  musician and had a masters degree in International Business from Pepperdine University.

“So, how does a guy with a Masters degree from Pepperdine University end up working at Club Adriatic as a life guard?”

“It is a long story. You want to go to the Chili Peppers concert with me?”

Later that week Don went to the mall and bought two tickets for $45 each. The kickoff tour date was scheduled for January 31 in Orlando. The concert was still a month away when Don bought the tickets. Just to be sure, I asked my boss if she could please give me the date off, it was on a Saturday.

A few weeks before the concert the word came out that Kiedis had broken his foot and the concert would be delayed for another few months.  Finally, March 31 rolled around and we were set to go to Orlando from Port St. Lucie. After we were about 20 minutes into the ride Don tells me, “The message therapist at the hotel offered me first row tickets for $65 a piece but I decided not to buy them.”

“Oh, what row are we in?” I asked.

“Our seats are in the fifth deck.”

Not wanting to blow my top within the first half hour of our trip and pleaded with Don.  “Should we go back to the hotel and try and buy the tickets?”

“No we can’t do that, she isn’t working today.”

“The concert starts at 8 pm, it’s not even 12 noon yet, let’s just get to the concert a few hours early and try and trade our tickets for some better seats,” I suggested.

Don nodded that was ok with him. As we were getting on the freeway we were given a “sun pass,” which is a flowery name given to the toll that everyone in Florida has to pay for using the highways there. By the time we got to our exit in Orlando we had been on the highway for about 2 hours. When we gave our “sun pass” to the guy in the toll booth he rang us up for $13. I thanked him for working that day and appreciated his soft hands.

We found our hotel which cost $75 a night and had a pool. We might as well have been at a Radisson, it had two rooms, a nice kitchen, refrigerator and a dining area. There is no way we would have gotten a room half that nice in any major city in California for that price.  As soon as we checked in the rain started coming on heavily. We rushed downstairs and across the street to the nearest Carl’s Junior.  I got an extra large burger with fries and a water. My teeth were hurting me a bit from drinking too much soda. I was so hungry I ate the burger while it was still red hot. While we were eating Don told me about a couple in the hotel who he went out drinking with.

After his story I told him a little about an experience I had at the hotel.

“My co-worker Mosher is one of those guys who threw away the playbook of life out the back window a long time ago, we were walking together by the volleyball court the other day and two lizards walked in front of us on the path. Mosher then looks towards me and says, ‘You ever make earrings out of dead lizards?’ I said that I didn’t. He then goes on to ask me if I know Tim the Taxi driver. ‘Oh man, you got to meet this guy. Every time I get a ride from the hotel to anywhere he tells me about his partying days.  But when he tells a story you can only only understand about one third of what he is telling you.’”

“Yeah, I know the guy, here are a few of my favorite stories by Tim, ‘$5 for a pack of toothpicks………(20 minutes go by)……. what else was I supposed to do with the handcuffs?’ or ‘What kind of questions was that…..(6 minutes go by)…….that’s why I don’t go out with American chicks,’ or ‘I used to pack each urinal with two cups of ice…….(2 minutes go by)…….he tap danced his ass out of my house pretty quickly after that,’ or ‘The Rebar, I didn’t even know there was one in town…..(1 minute goes by)…..and they will show a picture of you right there on the video screen if you are sober enough,’ or ‘I stopped partying 6 years ago ….(4 minutes go by)….that will make you forget about your big toe pretty quick,’or ‘I brought it to the dart board……(30 seconds go by)…….and the minute he gets out of jail, she goes right back to him,’ If you don’t believe me I have over seven different videos filmed with Tim while in his taxi cab,” I replied defensively.

The more we discussed about our working lives the heavier the rain got until finally I said, ¨Are you sure you want to go to the hotel pool after this?” trying to make light of the situation.

“No, let’s just grab a few Canada Dries and head back to the hotel.”

“What about the holes in the bottom of your shoes, I think it’s time to buy a new pair,” replied Don.

“These old DC shoes I bought back in 2007 and have held together pretty well. I paid $45 for them  at that time.  I went back to the store where I bought this year and they want $60 for the exact same pair but the weight of the new shoes are about half the weight of these ones. I think DC shoes are starting to skimp on the materials and selling shoes that aren’t as good as there were back in the day. When I originally bought these shoes I used to leave them by the front door promising to myself that I would take them back to the store the next day because they weren’t that comfortable, were so rigid and I wanted to find some high tops. Three months later they finally were broken in and they didn’t dig into my ankles. Now 5 years later  can’t get rid  of them because they don’t make shoes this good anymore,” I replied to Don afyer we arrive at the quick stop.

I checked my watch and we still had over 4 hours until show time. We quickly headed over to the quick stop and grabbed a few cold Canada Dries. We went back to the hotel and discussed how we  would make it over to the stadium.

We rolled up to the Amway Center exactly 2 hours early for the show. The place seemed like the atmosphere was picking, so we walked around looking for some ticket scalpers. Finally we met a guy who was standing underneath a bridge.

“We got a business deal we want to talk to you about,” I started in. “How about if we trade you our two tickets in the fifth deck and you give us your tickets in the third deck for $25 a piece?”

“Let me see your tickets,” asked the scalper as he threw his towel over he shoulder. For some reason it seems as if everyone in the scalping business walks around carrying a towel. They must sweat a lot standing under a bridge all day.

We handed over the tickets and the scalper seemed convinced they were real. He reconfirmed the agreement and we passed our tickets over and the money and he gave us his tickets.

We inspected our new tickets and started walking towards the Amway Center. A block in a half later we heard someone running up behind us.

“Sorry guys, I can’t take the tickets they have expired,” he belched out, clearly not used  to having to run customers down.

We tried to explain to him that the original date in January had been pushed back to March 31 due to the lead singer having a medical condition.

“Sorry, I can’t buy tickets from January,” replied the scalper.

We decided bot to haggle with him too much because we figured there must be thousands of people trying to sell tickets to this show walking around. So we gave the money and tickets back and got our old tickets back. We walked around for another hour talking to maybe 10 other scalpers and finding nobody who was really to trade their tickets for ours. Reluctantly I walked into the auditorium with Don at 8.15pm.

There was another band playing before the Red Hot Chili Peppers called something like, Blind Fist Punches Freedom. We listened to them while waiting in line to buy a few Canada Dries. We got our soda and headed to the 5th deck, It seemed like the elevator took 20 minutes to get there. We then walked down the corridor a few blocks and went into the seating area. There was no usher for the upper deck so we found our seats by ourselves. We sat down and were right in the aisle behind the stairs. I thought to myself, “Oh great we are going to have all the drunk people spilling beers on us all day.” I tried not to show my frustration in front of Don. After 15 minutes went by to people came over and asked to see our tickets. They apparently had a claim on our seats. When they checked our tickets we realized we were actually sitting about 10 seats over to the left. We apologized and looked for our new seats. We sat down in our seats and were dead center in front of the stage (still not close but at least we had a clear view to the stage). In our new found seats we got so excited we attempted to chat with the girls sitting to our left but they didn’t seem too interested in discussing the newly-released collectors edition of World of Warcraft.

Don went downstairs for a smoke right as the concert started. I warned him that there probably weren’t any smoking areas in the stadium. He came back 45 minutes later saying that he had actually flushed his lighter down the toilet and was looking for a new. As soon as he sat bac down we watched Kiedis shuffle across the stage with a brace on one leg.

I give the band credit, they played a solid 80 minute set. The only thing missing  felt was to chat up the crowd a little more. There was really no small talk in between songs except for a few comments about Trent Reznor.

We stopped at a McDonald’s on the way home which was in a working class neighborhood. Most of the other cars in line had spinning 22-inch silver rims. On our way home we decided to get off  one exit too soon. When we stopped at the toll booth at the exit there was nobody working there, so we just drove by without paying the toll. Twenty minutes later we were on an unlit road in the sticks being followed by a cop car. I had a bad feeling we were going to get stopped. We then came to a “T” intersection with the cop right behind us. I asked Don what I should do.

“Flip a U-turn,” he assertively responded with the tone of sending troops into battle.

I flipped a U-turn and thankfully the cop made a right. Two blocks later I pulled over and asked Don to drive.

“Luckily we weren’t in a lowered Honda or we would have been pulled over for sure,” I told Don during the switch.

“You got that right, there is no cop in all of Florida man enough to pull over two working class  white males in a 1993 Buick Sedan.”