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Spain is a very popular tourist destination for Europeans, and any tourist worth his/her salt knows how to ask for the bill at a restaurant:

La cuenta, por favor.

However, a couple of months ago, a Dutch radio DJ, who often goes on holiday to Spain, said that you can also ask for la multa (the fine). You would certainly be understood and the waiter would appreciate the wordplay/joke. In my native language (Dutch), it wouldn't work, but we do have an expression for this occasion which literally translates to 'How much is the damage?'.

My question: is this really true, or did he just make it up? I couldn't find any references to this usage in online dictionaries, e.g. Spanish Central.

  • It is a funny one! However, we do not use that in Spanish from Spain. As a funny side note on paying bills by Dutch people, in Spanish we do not use the expression go Dutch; instead, we pagamos a escote, that is, we pay on cleavage. – fedorqui Feb 23 '17 at 14:25
  • @fedorqui are you sure of that? :D – Charlie Feb 23 '17 at 14:33
  • @fedorqui I disagree as well. I lived in southern Spain for a couple of years, and was taught la multa almost immediately by my native Andalusian teacher. – Nuclear Wang Feb 23 '17 at 15:01
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    In Argentina, there's a similar expression to "How much is the damage?", which is to ask "¿Cuánto duele (sth)?" (literally, "¿How much does (sth) hurt?" I don't think it is polite to say anything of this kind to any clerk or staff you are not acquainted to but then again, it depends on context, how you say it, friendliness of the staff, what kind of restaurant you are visiting, etc. – JMVanPelt Feb 23 '17 at 15:03
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    @fedorqui well, when we say pagar a escote we don't use escote in the sense of cleveage, but in another, completely different sense with its own meaning and etymology. – Charlie Feb 23 '17 at 15:31
11

In Spain we certainly love puns/wordplay. Thus, we have a lot of ways to refer to the bill, other than the standard la cuenta. Among them, we include:

  • La dolorosa ("the painful one").
  • La multa ("the fine"; "the bill", but the other kind of bill; at least in Andalucía (southern Spain) is a classic).
  • El clavazo ("the stabbing", "the nailing", but this one is derogatory, not to be used with the waiter, but with your friends; well, maybe also with the waiter if you are angry).
  • El sablazo ("the sword-slash", similar to the previous one, but this one may be used with the waiter).

Note that the waiter will take the pun only if you speak cordially with him/her. If you speak too seriously he/she may think that you have learnt the wrong word. I would not recommend using it if it is your first time with that waiter, use it only if you know him/her previously and get along well with him/her.

Here you have an example:

"Ahora nos traen la dolorosa, ¡y a retratarse!", dice alguien en la mesa del restaurante (la dolorosa es la cuenta, y retratarse es pagar).

Ángel Rosenblat, "El castellano de España y el castellano de América. Unidad y diferenciación", 1962 (Venezuela)

4

It's a subtle way to ask for la cuenta, but it is not commonly used. Similar to the joke of washing dishes as compensation for not paying. My recommendation, do not use it.

4

It is a wordplay or joke. "la multa" means "the traffic ticket". In both cases they give you a paper and you have to pay.

Well, you can make this joke if you know the bar/restaurant owners, if you are a recurring client or if you are in a festive mood like in a celebration.

In other cases they may not understand you but it is not something wrong. If they don't understand you they will say something like "¿cómo dices?" or "¿la multa?" and then you could say "la cuenta" and it will be fine.

Do not make this joke in a "high class restaurants" or if the context is not casual.

This is for Spain and I don't know if this joke works in other countries, because may be they have other name for the traffic ticket and different sense of humor.

2

I would say that you should not use it at a restaurant, but you could use it at the bar. Let's make clear that referring to the bill as "la multa" is clearly a joke.

If you are having dinner in a restaurant and you ask for "la multa" the waiter/waitress may have a difficult time understanding what you mean. The environment may be more formal here, and less prone to these jokes. If this is asked by a non-native speaker it could make things even more difficult (or not; some people understand that people speaking a second language may make these "mistakes" while others won't bother at all trying to figure out what you really meant; the waiter may understand you, even if they don't get the joke, because they might think that you just confused the words).

If you are in a bar the environment is much more relaxed and more prone to jokes. I have even seen people say things like "Maestro, la partitura for favor" ("Maestro, the score, please"). That doesn't mean that it will be universally understood either.

To answer your question, I don't think that that DJ made it up. It just works for him, like the "musical score" worked (once) for my friend. Don't expect to be universally understood.

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