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May 20

Bogota: The Seoul of South America?


In the fine tradition of taking two seemingly completely different cities and making you realise that they’re not that different after all, in this post, I plan to use my amazing powers of obfuscation to confuse you so much that you won’t know your Seoul from your Bogota. There are some fairly mundane and uninteresting similarities between the respective capitals of South Korea and Colombia – such as, “torn sarn it: most folks sure do got dark hair round these parts,” or “dag nab it! This-here city sure is big and busy-like” (I don’t know why an 1830s American miner is saying such things, but anyway) – but I’d like to look at some less immediately recognisable ones. So here, we go:



Can one be too polite?

Can one be too polite?


Of Course:

OK, so, of course (don’t worry, although I stole the following structure from Louis C.K., there will be very little talk about the merits of slavery), the way people speak in Seoul and Bogota are very different. I mean, if you want to be a real nitpicker here, one small indication of this is that they speak pretty much completely different languages.

But Maybe:

The content and manner of the way both groups of speakers is oddly similar.

In one of our numerous looks at Colombian culture, we’ve commented how Colombians, and Rolos in particular, are remarkably polite before. Guess what? So are the good people of Seoul. For every “Si Señor” or “Con mucho gusto” you hear in a Bogotan restaurant, you’ll hear an “Algesumnida, Son-nim” (certainly, Sir Guest) in one in Seoul. In both cities, people are polite to others. Almost to a fault. And another thing, while we’re on the topic. In both countries, the people of the capital are renowned for their neutral tone and lack of cadence when speaking. Compare the accent of Bogota to that of Medellin, and you’ll find some weird parallels with that between Seoul and Busan.

One more thing. This ultra-politeness in public seems to translate to a phenomenal level of cussing once among friends. Many Rolo friends just love calling each other “marica.” About as much as Seoul Sarams like calling each other “kae saeggi” (“dog baby” – sunnavabitch, right?). This is different to Australians, who just like swearing in most any context.




Groovy. Baby.

Groovy. Baby.


Of Course:

The cultures of both countries could hardly be more different. Stereotypes – like those of the conservative, buttoned-down, Confucian Korean, and the uninhibited, passionate, free-loving Colombian – never work (Psy, on the one hand; Roberto Gerlein on the other) – but they do have a bit of traction. A young Seoul couple risk a very real danger of being slapped, or at least being looked at furiously, for making out in public; while such a public display of affection is pretty much expected of their Bogotano counterparts.

But Maybe:

Why, then, are Love Motels so readily available in both cities (or so I hear)?

Let me hazard an answer here. In both cities, it’s customary for children to live in their parents’ houses until they marry, and having a sexy time before tying the knot is officially looked down upon. What is a young, hormone-driven couple to do? I’ve a couple of ideas, and they revolve around circular beds and mirrors on the ceiling. Or, so I’m told.

The Future is Now.


A quick test: which city is which?

A quick test: which city is which?


Of Course:

The histories of both cities are wildly different. Again, a nitpicker would point out that Korea is in East Asia, while Colombia is in South America. This leads to emphatically different outlooks on life.

But Maybe:

Not that long ago, both cities were almost ripped apart by brutal, heart-wrenching violence. Both cities have long histories of war and turmoil. Both are capitals of countries that have been cruelly internally divided by conflict. This has left both groups of people with very real pain in their hearts, that they find understandably difficult to talk about. In Korea, this feeling even has a name, “han.” Partly because of this, and partly because of geographical reasons, both cities are capitals of countries that were traditionally closed societies.

Enough of the doom and gloom, because things have changed so radically in both cities. Both have undergone almost-unrecognisable face-lifts, and both are now energetic, bustling metropolises, full of hope and citizens with a proud drive to succeed. Both have opened up to the outside world, and both cities are intensely proud and ready to share their cultural riches and respective uniqueness to the rest of the world.

And….just one more before I go: both love drinking Colombian coffee, and both love dancing. Gangnam style.

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