Qué Pena!

One of the first things that parents here in the US teach their toddlers is to say "Sorry!" We use the word all the time. A child spills his milk, "Sorry!" He bumps into someone, "Sorry!" He forgets to do something, "Sorry!" He rips a toy out of the hands of another, "Sorry!" Where would be be if after time out we didn't have an apology of "I'm Sorry!" We love Sorry so much, that there is even a game for kids called, what else, "SORRY!" Sorry, here in the Northern part of the New World, means to feel "sorrowful". It comes from a German word that meant "distressed or full of sorrow". When we say Sorry!, we are saying "Hey I feel really bad about what I just did!" It gives us personal accountability.

Well, here is a cultural newsflash! Colombians do not tend to express their apology in the same way. This is not to mean that they are rude, on the contrary, they share your pain.

They believe that almost everything is the result of fate. As a result, little can be any one person's fault. Whether they bump into you on the bus, show up late, don't show up at all, lose your paperwork....whatever, you will rarely get an apology. You are far more likely to hear this lovely excuse, "Que pena." Roughly translated it means, "What a pity." But culturally it means much more. It means too bad that happened to you. Note the lack of personal responsibility. Things happen, and this thing happened to you. Too bad!

But, it is nice. Who wouldn't love to blame IT (fate) for causing a problem? It makes interaction so much less confrontational. You are not at fault, IT is. Even the Spanish equivalent to Sorry -- LO SIENTO -- doesn't show personal accountability. It means "I feel it". I feel your pain. Not, I am sorry I caused your pain. I just will share the feeling of the burden of it with you.

So, if you are expecting a apology from someone in Colombia, you may wait a long time, "Que pena!"


Anonymous said…
This is SO TRUE!
Anonymous said…
Actually, "pena" in Colombia also means to be embarrased, so "que pena" is like "I'm embarrased", which changes the meaning,and shows responsability!

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