The other day, I walked out of my apartment in Pedregal de Santo Domingo in Mexico City to get a quick bite to eat and some coca cola.
The coca cola because I had some rum back at my place that I wanted to mix it with.
Trying to be more sophisticated with my drinks than just black tea & vodka.
And there’s this one street food place about 5 minutes away that sells boneless and French fries.
However, they literally never have boneless except like once or maybe twice a week.
One of those typical cases in Latin America where stuff on the menu just isn’t actually on the menu!
A common enough annoyance that doesn’t happen everyday but happens more down here than what I’m used to back in the US.
However, the lady at the place promised me that they’d have it that day!
Thankfully, they did.
So, once I got my food, I walked over back to my place and took a stop at this small corner shop where I grabbed some coca cola.
I grab a large amount of coca cola for the night and placed it on the counter.
“32 pesos” the lady behind the counter said.
I pulled out a 50 peso note and gave it to her.
Got my change back.
And I told her “gracias.”
She responded back “de que?”
I didn’t respond to that
Simply grabbed the coca cola and walked away.
Now, for those who don’t speak Spanish, I’ve always translated the “de que?” as a non-native Spanish speaker to mean “of what?”
That’s what it sounds like to me, right?
My Spanish isn’t perfect but I always translated it word for word on a literal level.
And, being honest, I never liked the response “de que?”
It sounds rude.
In my mind, it comes across as the following.
“Thanks” I’d say.
“For what, asshole?” they’d respond back aggressively.
Now, to be fair, the tone of voice is never aggressive when the “de que?” is said.
And, as far as I can remember, I don’t remember this phrase being used often in other Latin countries but I’m sure it is.
It’s been years anyhow but, if I had to guess, I think it’s a little more common in Mexico.
Now, after every time it’s been said to me, I never said anything back.
Never made a big deal about it or questioned why they say “de que?”
As I said, they aren’t seemingly trying to be rude or dicks about me saying “thanks.”
Still, out of curiosity, I looked up why people say “de que?” in Mexico.
Maybe the internet has an answer for me?
Well, when I looked it up that night, I saw something that said that "de que" is short for "no hay de que" but I couldn't find it again in the last few minutes.
Which makes a little more sense now assuming that is right.
They’re simply shortening a phrase down to a few less words.
And, when I read that, it reminded me of my days learning Spanish in high school over a decade ago.
I actually remember this phrase being taught to me in Spanish class when I just began learning this language.
Never used it though and, as I said, I don’t remember anyone using it on me in other parts of Latin America.
Suffice to say, the phrase dropped from my vocabulary once I set foot in Latin America and, perhaps for that reason, I never realized initially that people here are just shortening a common phrase.
Now, from what I can find out online, supposedly the phrase translates to “don’t mention it” or “you are welcome” as you can see here.
Though, if I was to translate it literally, it’d sound more like “there is nothing to thank for” or maybe “there is nothing of what?”
Which obviously you can’t always translate things literally word for word or they might not make sense.
Those translations obviously don’t make sense outside of maybe the first one in that last sentence.
Still, despite actually looking up what folks mean by “de que?” and how it’s just a shortened version of a longer phrase, it still slightly rubs me the wrong way just a tiny bit.
Because, as a non-native Spanish speaker, it doesn’t matter how good my Spanish gets as my native language is always English and obviously we translate things a certain way sometimes in terms of how they sound to us in the moment.
Still, this all brings up two last points to consider.
The Various Ways to Say Thank You in Latin America
Obviously, it’s not a big deal if someone says “de que?” to you down here.
Despite how it still sounds “weird to me,” I understand now that I was just not connecting the dots to know that it’s just a shortened version of a phrase.
And that goes to how, in the Spanish language and other languages too, you obviously have various ways of saying the same thing.
You obviously have other ways for people to say “you’re welcome.”
Like “de nada.”
Which, similar to “de que,” also sounds slightly weird to me because I’d translate it to “of nothing.”
But that phrase doesn’t rub me the wrong way though even in the slightest.
Anyway, here’s a small list of a few other ways that I’ve heard others use to say “you’re welcome” or some version of it.
“A La Orden”
Personally, I like “a la orden.”
Sounds very former and I expect to be treated like a king always.
Don’t forget to call me Rey after you’re a la orden.
And, if we wanted to, we could go all day into looking at other ways to say the same thing with something else in Spanish.
But then we have the next point to bring up.
“That’s Weird to Say”
Already mentioned but I figured to make a quick separate section for it.
When learning a foreign language, I feel you’ll have moments where you hear a certain phrase and it just sounds weird to you.
Perhaps because you were translating it literally for example and, even if you know what the local is trying to say with something like “de que” or “de nada,” it still sounds slightly weird.
How to make sense of that?
Well, to me, I figured it’s just because I’m not a native Spanish speaker and my brain’s native language is English.
Therefore, no matter how good you get at Spanish, some things don’t sound “as natural” to you as other ways of saying things that a local might find to be more natural.
That’s the best way I know how to put it but maybe there’s a better way.
Second, you might find a certain phrase to “sound weird’ not because of a oddity in translating it literally from Spanish to English but because it just sounds weird.
In Colombia, they have the phrase “no dar papaya” and, in Mexico, they have the phrase “que padre.”
“Que Padre” meaning how cool.
“No Dar Papaya” meaning “never let your guard down” so that you don’t let someone so easily take advantage of you.
Obviously, we could ask why do Mexicans associate “father” with cool. They must all have good relationships with their dads (even the women).
And I guess Colombians are just very protective of their papaya. Must be a sacred fruit to their daily diet.
Anything to Add?
At any rate, anything to add?
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