Instead it’s a very polite way of saying “I’m sorry”, frequently heard from service workers like waiters when something goes wrong for the customer.  I’ve had a waiter say it when I dropped my own money and he picked it up for me, just the other day when a waitress forgot half of my order and left me waiting twenty minutes for it many a “qué pena” was heard (they made it right, even got some free brownies out of the mix).

A common variation of this is “qué pena contigo/con usted”, literally meaning something like “what a shame with you”, but it implies culpability for said shame on the speaker.  Everywhere else, as best I know, it just means “what a shame” – if you search the phrase on Reverso Contexto those are the only results you get except for the very last one (that means least frequent in the results) where it shows “I’m sorry”.  So if you actually wanted to say “what a shame” in Colombia you’d probably go with either “qué lástima” or “qué vergüenza”.

Check out the below video (it’s in Spanish, auto-generated subtitles are available and decently accurate) where a Panamanian television presenter talks about the Colombian phrases and words that stood out to her when she recently visited the country (it’s in Spanish, auto-generated subtitles are available and decently accurate).  The first one she mentions is “qué pena” but the whole video is worth a watch.

If anyone’s planning on going to Colombia shoot me an email (andrew -at- traceylanguages -dot- com), I’m just wrapping up three months here and would be happy to answer any questions you have.

I learned to speak conversational Spanish in six months using TV shows, movies, and even comics: I then wrote a book on how you can, too

I have a whole method and a book I wrote about it called The Telenovela Method where I teach you how to learn Spanish from popular media like TV shows, movies, music, books, etc. that you can all find online for free.  It was the #1 new release in the Spanish Language Instruction section on Amazon for nearly a month after it came out and currently has 17 reviews there with a 4.9/5 stars average.  It's available for $7.99-$9.99 for the e-book version depending on who you buy it from (Kindle version on Amazon is now $7.99) and $16.99 for the paperback (occasionally a bit cheaper, again, depending on who you buy it from).

It's currently available in both e-book and paperback from:


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