Living or travelling in Colombia, as we mention on a daily basis, is a truly enriching experience. I, like most foreigners who decide to live in Colombia, am enchanted by Colombian culture and its peculiarities. So much so that I have even begun to adopt some of the ‘Colombianisms’ that seemed so strange to me when I first moved here. We have previously mentioned some signs that you have been in Colombia too long but here are some more of my observations on Colombianisms.
1. You greet and greet and greet some more
One Colombian custom that I find incredibly amusing is the seemingly never-ending series of questions that Colombians ask each other when they meet, to which they expect no response. For example:
Parce 1: “Hola parce, que mas?”
Parce 2: “Q’hubo marica? Como te va?”
P1: “Que me cuentas? Bien o no?”
P2: “Como te ha ido? Que has hecho?”
P1: “En que andas guevon?”
Before either one has had the chance to simply say “bien”, the conversation has (eventually) moved on to more important things.
2. You now call Facebook “Face”
Clearly some things are better shortened, but this particular peculiarity often leads to the slightly ambiguous and confusing questions “Do you have face?” or “Why haven’t you accepted my face?” Don’t be offended, your face is lovely.
3. Uish, parce, marica, ufff, paila, guevon
The previous six ‘words’ make up 60% of your sentences. As in “ufff parce, que frio tan paila” or “uish, no seas tan guevon, marica”.
4. You no longer say “it’s fine, I don’t need a bag”
Pretty much any European or foreigner who arrives in Colombia, either to travel or to live, will begin by proudly claiming that they will carry their shop-bought items in their hands or their pockets, smugly thinking to themselves “I’m saving the planet, one bag at a time”. This may well be true, but after a while of putting up with confused looks from shop-keepers and being made to feel that your lack of a plastic bag is weird, eventually we all end up double-bagging an egg at some point.
5. You refuse to wear shorts in Bogota
Yes, Bogota is cold. And wet. But there are times (more than people would have you believe) when the sun is shining, the birds are singing and the clouds have nipped off to Boyaca for the day. However, you will not see anyone wearing shorts. Instead we prefer to sweat it out in our jeans for fear of looking like a lost and confused tourist.
6. You see everything as a diminutive
When my family came to visit, one of their first questions was why the taxi driver said that the fare was siete “pesitos”. By adding the –ito it doesn’t mean that the fare is any less, yet Colombians (and now me) love making everything diminutive. I want a normal-sized beer yet I will ask for a “polita”. Instead of asking people to hold for a second I ask them if they can wait “un ratico” or “un minutico” (even though, this being Colombia, that minute will actually be longer than a normal one, not shorter). My morning coffee is a “tintico” and that huge dog who is attacking me is a “lindo perrito”.
7. You can criticise Colombia, but nobody else can
Colombia is an amazing country, with some outrageous landscapes, the friendliest people in the world and a fascinating culture and history. We all know this. We have been banging on about it for years now. But it isn’t perfect. There are problems, peculiarities and issues that can’t be ignored. And Colombians like little better than ranting about the country’s problems. But let a Colombian catch you saying anything negative about their country and you will be on the receiving end of a veritable barrage of abuse, thinly veiled under impressive nationalist pride. So don’t let me hear you bad-mouth my Colombia. There is nothing wrong with it unless I say there is.
8. “Que pena” now just falls out of your mouth
I have touched on this before but this Colombian phrase for saying ‘I’m sorry’ initially confused and bothered me a fair bit. It literally means ‘what a pity’ or ‘what a shame’. Sounds pretty sarcastic, right? Well, that’s what I thought at first – imagine someone stepping on your foot on the bus or bumping into you on the street and turning to you to say ‘what a shame’. How can it sound anything but sarcastic? Yet much to my chagrin, I have noticed myself using the term several times every day. It rolls off my tongue and before my brain has time to process what I am saying it is out there, making me feel slightly dirty and repulsive.
9. Waking up at 5am is normal
As a European, I am used to things starting at what I always considered a normal, civilised hour. University classes beginning at 9, work days starting at 8.30, you know, when they should begin. When the day comes, however, where you have been up at 5 every morning and getting on a crammed TransMilenio for months without even batting an eyelid, you have basically completed your transition to Colombian.
10. You look at foreigners with genuine intrigue
While in many countries around the world, foreigners are looked at with hostility or disdain, this is not the case in Colombia. Sure, people will stare, not even vaguely trying to conceal it, with wide-eyed interest. Hearing you speak English, or indeed Spanish in an obviously foreign accent, fills Colombians with intrigue – “what is an Englishman doing here? Is he lost? Does he need help?”. Again, this is just a perfect manifestation of Colombian friendliness and willingness to help. Keep staring, it amuses me.
11. You buy single cigarettes
You’re hankering for a smoke as you walk down septima so you stop at a woman under an umbrella with a box full of tricks. Now, you are well aware that you will eventually want another cigarette, that buying them in singles is twice the price and that you have more than enough cash for a ten-pack, yet you still opt to buy one, only to feel annoyed about your decision a couple of hours later.
12. Queuing is optional
As a Brit, I love a good old queue. Standing in line, knowing that there is order to your day, patiently awaiting your turn. However, more often than not in Colombia, you will see someone jump to the front of the queue to ask a ‘quick question’ which in fact takes longer than what most people were planning on doing anyway. I’m not quite there yet and am not sure if I ever will be – little by little I’m beating the Brit out of myself, but this might well be the final frontier.
13. You knowingly give the wrong directions
This is perhaps the only flipside to Colombians being so friendly and helpful. So strong is the desire to help people out that Colombians will often respond to a question even if they don’t know the answer. And this is most annoying when it comes to asking directions, walking for half an hour and then realising that the place you were looking for is on the other side of the city.
14. You genuinely love aguardiente
While most foreigners’ initial impression of aguardiente is that it is fairly disgusting, let’s call it an acquired taste. Now I find it difficult to start a night without first killing off a bottle of Nectar on someone’s sofa. I guess it makes it easier for me to bust my awful salsa moves without caring.
You’re out of credit on your phone. There’s a shop selling credit across the street. Yet, instead of topping up your phone, you decide it makes more sense to find one of the numerous ‘minuto’ people on the street to make a call, confusing the person on the other end of the line with yet another random number. This also leads to the strange moment when you receive a missed call from a number you don’t know, call it back and end up chatting to Doña Cecilia on Calle 53.
16. Local Pride
Colombians are a proud people. And quite rightly so. But this pride can so often spill over into animosity between regions and cities. Take me, for example – I have lived in Bogota for almost two years now and I am something of a proud rolo. At the same time I am well aware of the many benefits of other places in Colombia but I’m blinded by my love for Big Bad Boggie. Get me in a conversation with a paisa about Bogota compared with Medellin and it will not be pretty. Even though I love Medellin and think it is an incredible city. Strange that.
There are of course plenty more Colombian customs that we notice on a daily basis. Fear not, we’ll keep compiling our findings for a rainy day.
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