Are you going to Colombia without any knowledge of the Spanish language?
Or, do you already know Spanish but learned elsewhere, say in Spain or another Latin American country?
There is something significant you need to know!
In Colombia, everyone (without exception) uses the verb “regalar” differently than other Spanish speakers.
What does the verb” Regalar” mean?
In Colombia, the verb “regalar” is used in two ways: the general way and the Colombian way.
1. General meaning of “regalar”
This verb comes from the word “Regalo” which means “gift” or “present”
So, the literal translation of this verb is:
“To give a present”, or “to gift something to someone.”
All Spanish speakers, including Colombians, use and understand this verb this way: Giving something for free, as a gift or present
Pedro me regaló chocolates de cumpleaños
(Pedro gave me Chocolates for my birthday)
No sé qué regalarle a mi hermana de Navidad
(I don’t know what to give my sister for Christmas)
A Giveaway contest:
“¡Vamos a regalar entradas para el concierto…!”
(We are giving away free tickets for the concert…!
2. Colombian Spanish meaning of “regalar”
So, what’s the difference with the use of “Regalar” in Colombia?
In Colombia, we like to do things differently!
Although we also use this verb when we give or receive something as a gift, the everyday use of this verb is to ask for something, anything politely! you will see below…
Regalar = Dar (To give)
Not necessary as a gift or present (Keep this in mind!)
How do Colombians use the verb “regalar”?
It’s used in both formal and informal situations
We use it in its reflexive form:
We use it in the first person (I, we):
It’s used as a question, or an alternative of the imperative form of the verb give “Dar”
¿Me regala …. ? ¿ Nos regala ….?
Saying directly “Me da…..”, sounds imposing, and therefore impolite in Colombia.
What exactly does “Me/Nos regala” mean in Colombian Spanish?
This expression is basically used as:
Can I get..? or, Can we get…?
Could I have…? or, Could we have…?
Would you give me…? or, would you give us…?
“Regalar” means asking for something politely (NOT asking for other people to give you something for free)
What is even more interesting is that you can ask for anything!… From a cup of coffee, someone’s time, to a formal company quotation.
If you’re getting a black coffee, you would ask:
¿Me regala un tinto, por favor?
(Can I get a black coffee, please)
This literally translates into “Would you gift me…?, or “Can I get it for free?”
This might sound strange for foreigners, even those from other Spanish-speaking countries! But it’s a phrase we use all the time to ask a favor or make a request for a product/service that will be (obviously) paid.
It doesn’t imply an actual gift or donation! We emphasize that we pay because it’s the main confusion people have when they visit Colombia or when Colombians order something abroad (i.e., Spain, Argentina, Chile).
Colombians, mostly people from Bogota, are known for being polite -sometimes extremely polite- in the way we talk.
We are known for saying too many words just to ask for something simple and for saying thank you and please many times during a conversation.
For example, a customer service call could be like this:
-Customer Service Agent:
Buenas tardes señor(a), Sería tan amable de regalarme su nombre completo, por favor.
(Good afternoon Sir, Would you be so kind as to give me your full name, please?)
-Customer Service Agent:
Perfecto, señor. Regáleme un momento, por favor…
Perfect, Sir. Please give me a moment.
-Customer Service Agent:
Gracias por su amable espera….
Thanks for kindly waiting…
As a funny fact, check this meme…
“Me regala una moneda” This expression is used by beggars on the street asking for money.
In this case, it is literal, they are asking you for money for free!
So, apart from saying “Me regala”, don’t forget to add “por favor” (Please)!
Examples of how Colombians use “Me regala”
See below some examples of how we use the expression “Me regala”.
In a convenient store, “tienda” or restaurant
¿Me regala una gaseosa con papas fritas, (por favor)?
(Can I get a soda with fries, (please)?)
¿Me regala sal y pimienta, (por favor)?
(Can I get some salt and pepper, (please)?)
¿Nos regala la cuenta, (por favor)?
(Can we get the bill, (please)?)
¿Me regala otra botella de vino, (por favor)?
(Can I get another bottle of wine, (please)?)
¿Me regala su firma, por favor?
(Can I get your signature, please?) This is common when you pay with your credit card
In the office or workplace
When you need to ask something to a colleague or boss.
Pablo, ¿me regalas un momento para hablar de un tema importante?
(Pablo, do you have a moment to talk about something important?)
When someone is at a meeting and have to answer a phone call
Disculpen, tengo que contestar esta llamada. Regálenme un momento.
(Excuse me, I need to answer this phone call. Give me a moment)
When asking the directions to visit someone’s office
¿Me podrías regalar la dirección, por favor?
(Could you give me the address, please?)
Sending an email asking for a quotation
Buenas tardes, estimados xxxx,
Encontramos su contacto en Google al buscar proveedores de sillas de madera para oficinas, ¿podrían regalarnos una cotización de 12 sillas individuales, por favor?
(Good afternoon, dear xxxx,
We have found your contact on Google when looking for wooden office chairs. Could you please send us a quotation for 12 single chairs, please?)
When asking for coffee to the lady that helps cleaning and/serving at the office.
¿Doña Carmenza, nos regala tinto para la reunión, por favor?
Mrs. Carmenza, could we get some coffee for the meeting, please?
Tip: Doña or Don
“Doña” and “Don” are often used as a title of respect with a woman’s and man’s name, respectively. They are used regardless of social status, and it’s more a title of respect and courtesy.
A boss would say “doña” to the helper at the office/home.
A helper or gardener would say “don” or “doña” to their employer.
In relationships (Love or Friendship)
Asking for someone’s phone number
¿Me regalas tu celular?
(Could I get your phone number?)
Here, the person is NOT asking for the Mobile Phone (celular) itself but for your phone number to call you later!
When flirting or dating someone
Y… ¿qué tal si me regalas un besito?
(And…How about you give me a kiss?
Te recojo a las 7pm. ¡Regálame la dirección de tu casa!
I’ll pick you up at 7pm. Send me your address!
Amor, le quiero mandar unas flores a tu mamá de cumple, ¡Regálame su nombre completo, porfa!
Love, I want to give your mom some flowers for her birthday. Send me her address, please!
Colombians are relationship-oriented. And, by relationships, we don’t mean only dating or romantic relationships, we also mean people in general, friends and family relationships.
One of the reasons people want to learn Colombian Spanish is precisely for improving their relationships with Colombians. Nothing is better than speaking fluently with people we are interested in, in their language. It’s a game-changer!
Funny Experiences on “Me regala” Phenomenon
As you have seen, we use “me regala” quite often…And, since the literal translation is “giving something as a gift, meaning for free,” many Colombians have had funny anecdotes when using this expression abroad.
Many people from other Spanish-speaking countries had said that “Colombians want to get everything for free.”
Here are some examples:
The most common story “Me regala un café”
Many people, including us, have ordered coffee in countries like Spain, Argentina, or Chile, the same way we order in Colombia:
“Hola, me regala un café, por favor?”
(Hi, can I have a coffee, please?)
The face of the waiter or waitress is always confused…
“Ah? … No, no señora/señor, acá no se regala, acá se paga!”
(Ah?… No, no Mrs./Mr. here we don’t give things for free, and here you have to pay!)
Believe us, this happens more often than you think to Colombians!
Story of a Colombian lady in Spain
Mi esposa era víctima de la ironía del camarero madrileño que al verla decía: “Aquí viene la señora que quiere que le regalen cafés”. (El Tiempo)
“My wife was a victim of the irony of a waiter from Madrid who, when he saw her, he used to say: “Here comes the lady who wants coffee for free.”
Another story of Colombians in Spain
En la familia tenemos varias anécdotas de cuando los colombianos intentaron utilizar el ¨me regala¨ en España.
En un restaurante a una prima le faltaba un tenedor. Como buena colombiana, pedía al camarero si le regalaban uno. Pues sí, le regalaban: le trajeron un tenedor de plástico.
A otros les pasó en una tienda que al pedir algo con las palabras “me regala”, les contestaron: ¡aquí no se regala nada! (El Tiempo)
“We have several anecdotes of when Colombians tried to use the “me regala” in Spain.
In a restaurant, a cousin was missing a fork. As a good Colombian, she asked the waiter if she could “get” one. Yes, they gave her a fork: they brought her a plastic fork!
It also happened to others in a store, when they asked for something with “me regala” they answer was: nothing is given here for free!”
Story of a cleaning lady and her employer
Una amiga le dijo a su empleada recién contratada: “Mire, Ludis, le regalo esta ropa para que la lave”.
Cuando no encontró sus blusas y preguntó por ellas, recibió como respuesta:
“Pero, señora, si usted me las regaló”!. (El Tiempo)
A friend said to her newly hired employee: “Look, Ludis, I am giving you these clothes to wash.”
When my friend did not find her blouses and asked for them, she got the reply: “But, ma’am, you gave them to me (for free)”!
We hope you have enjoyed this read. Practice the “me regala” phenomenon with your Colombian friends!
They will love it!