Shopping in Colombia

The current importation policy imposed by the Ecuadorian government has made the prices of some products skyrocketing. Anything imported is incredibly expensive.

That is why Ecuadorians that live at the north of the country go to Colombia to do the shopping. The first city just right at the border is Ipiales with its Ecuadorian counterpart – Tulcán.

Ecuador has an agreement with Colombia about frontier traffic. Normally nobody checks your documents and if you are Ecuadorian you don’t need a passport – your cedula will be just fine (if anybody asks in the first place).

In comparison to Ecuador, the prices in Colombia are low. It seems that especially the following goods are worth buying there: food, alcohol, electronics and appliances. Besides that, Colombia produces high quality clothing and shoes. Such nice-looking and comfortable shoes are so much more expensive in Europe or North America!

How do you pay for the shopping there? All the shops in Ipiales accept USD, but the currency in the country is Colombian Peso (COP). The exchange rate at the day of our last visit was 1 USD = 2,945 COP paying with a credit/debit card*. It attracted thousands of Ecuadorians. Here is why:

USD-COP 17.08

As you can see in the chart, it was the best exchange rate in the past 2 years. And today is even better! It means that electronics such as phones, tablets and computers typically costs half of what you would paid in Ecuador. The liquors, however, are 3 to 4 times cheaper.

During your first shopping in Ipiales you can get a bit lost. The weather is typically not very nice – frequent rains and low temperature (the elevation is 2,898 m / 9,508 ft.). The town is rather ugly and the number of the shops is overwhelming so you can get easily tired. Fortunately there is a mall (Gran Plaza) with nice clothing shops and a store called Alkosto. Actually, there are two Alkostos – one in the city center (Parque 20 de Julio) and one in the Gran Plaza mall.

What attract Ecuadorians to shopping in Ipiales is not only the daily offer, but also great deals. For instance in Alkosto they give a 50% discount of your bill to every 25th or 50th customer. There are only 2 conditions. First, you can spend a coupon for that 50% on your next visit between 15 and 45 day later. Second, you have to appear in person, as they will ask your ID. That’s how Alkosto keeps their clients coming back.

*with cash it was only 1 USD = 2600 COP. Interesting difference, isn’t it? The bank rate is better than the “street” rate.

Ecuadorian Spanish

Spanish is one of the most popular languages in the world. It’s estimated that it’s a native language for more than 400 million people and 470 million people have native competences in Spanish.

Spanish speaking countries and territories (Wikipedia, public domain)
Spanish speaking countries and territories (Wikipedia, public domain)

Because it’s widely used in different countries in South America, a number of dialects or versions emerged. The main differences is the accent or pronunciation and the vocabulary. Let’s see what the characteristics of the Ecuadorian version of Spanish language are.

Usted vs. tu & ustedes vs. vosotros

The first thing that makes South American version of Spanish different from its European predecessor is the usage of pronouns. In South America you will address most people in more official way, using the word usted instead of Usted has – technically speaking – the form of the third person, but it doesn’t mean he or she. It means you, even if it joins the verb in third person. Examples:

English Spanish (tú – informal) Spanish (usted – formal)
You are a teacher. Tú eres un maestro. Usted es un maestro.
What’s your name? ¿Cómo te llamas?¿Cuál es tu nombre? ¿Cómo se llama?¿Cuál es su nombre?
You wrote a book. Tú escribiste un libro. Usted escribió un libro.
Don’t touch me! ¡No me toques! ¡No me toque!

So, when you talk to a stranger, your neighbor, a clerk or generally to somebody you don’t know, you use the form usted. What is interesting though, some couples talk one another using the form usted or even parents use the form usted when talking to their children! Such a formality among the family is something hard to understand, I guess.

Generally speaking, younger persons seem to use the informal form tu more often and in most of situations. Elder people, however, may feel offended when addressed in such a way.

The situation with formal and informal you (plural) is simpler. In South America you don’t use the informal form of you in plural. You just don’t. Some people will not even understand the verbs related to informal you. Or when you ask them, they will admit this form existed, but now it’s not used and it sounds ancient (it’s doing quite well in Spain, though). 😉

When addressing a group of people you will always say ustedes and you fill always pick the third plural form of the verb as if you were talking about them. In other words ustedes have the same verb forms as ellos/ellas. Examples:

English Spanish (ustedes – formal)
You are teachers. Ustedes son maestros.
How are you guys doing? ¿Cómo les va?¿Cómo están (ustedes)?
You guys wrote a book. Ustedes escribieron un libro.
Don’t touch me! ¡No me toquen!

Having only formal ustedes is actually a good news, as you will have to remember one verb form less than if you spoke in Spain.

Bien vs. muy

Ecuadorians tend to use the word bien (Eng. “well”) to describe the extent or the level of something. It is someway equivalent to the word muy (Eng. “very”). You can, for instance hear:

Estoy bien cansado.” – “I’m very tired.”

Está bien bonito.” – “It’s very beautiful.”

Bien barato.” – “Very cheap.”

It doesn’t seem bien confuso, does it? 😉

Bien mal

Everybody is your neighbor (or son/daughter)

This is actually funny. When you do shopping or visiting a doctor or just saying hello, the people will call you vecino (or vecina if you’re a woman). This literally means “neighbor”, but what’s interesting, you don’t have to even live close to be somebody’s neighbor. If you visit same shop once or two, you’re automatically vecino! 🙂

Vecino, vecino

The shop owners or doctors sometimes call their customers mi hijo, mi hija (“my son”, “my daughter”). Now, I don’t have to explain this doesn’t have anything to do with being or not being family. It’s just what they call you. 🙂

¿Que mas? Bien, no mas.

We’re getting more and more Ecuadorian in the list. This one is considered to be very typical for Ecuador. When you meet a person you know, you obviously need to exchange questions such as “How are you doing? How is it going?”, etc. etc.

In Ecuador, instead of a standard Spanish question like: “¿Como estás?” or “¿Que tal?” you can easily say:

¡Hola! ¿Que mas?

And a typical answer would be:

Bien, no mas.

Which you can translate to: “Hi, what’s more/new?”, “Good, nothing more/new“. Or less literaly: “Hi, what’s up?“, “Nothing…“. You want to impress an Ecuadorian? Go for it!

¡Siga no mas!

The absolute number one on the list, it’s kind of famous:

¡Siga no mas!

It doesn’t get any more Ecuadorian than this. Neither Colombians, nor Peruvians use that expression. It’s purely, genuinely an Ecuadorian invention! What does it mean? Well, you can translate it simply to “Carry on!“, but it may mean more than that. You can hear that in the response to questions such as “Can I use your bathroom?”, “Can I come in?”, you can be rushed by somebody with it, or you can be dismissed with it when for instance you want to sell something to somebody. Really useful!

Keep calm and siga no mas!

Have you already started to learn Spanish? If not, ¡siga no mas!