“A la orden” (from ‘Estar a la orden’, or ‘To be at the service of someone’)
Go anywhere in Colombia and you’re sure to hear it. Everyone says it and they say it all the time. Ok, generally it’s employees who say it to their customers but it can also be a way to tell someone “if you need it (something), I hope to be able to help you.” For a phrase to be so omnipresent, it’s wonderful that this is the phrase. In other countries, the phrase is always the same (“Can I help you?”) and that gets so boring and it requires a response (and with it, you’re made to think). However, “a la orden” requires no thinking and that’s what differentiates it in my opinion.
It has two general meanings, one being “can I help you?” and number two, “you’re welcome” (I’m going to add one based on my interpretation “please come back if you need my service again”). Alternatively, you may also hear “a sus ordenes” which is “at your orders”.
I’d like to track down the origin of the phrase, but being that it is kind of general, I’m not sure that is possible, although I do believe for some reason or other Colombians have made it their own. I read that in military parlance, “a la orden” means subordination or ‘mission understood’.