You may wonder, what are the main cultural aspects you could encounter or experience while living / traveling in Colombia…
This is everywhere in Latin America, and this is also the case in Colombia. Usually, do expect 45 minutes delay from the pre-set time for meeting friends. The easier way to not loose your time and be lonely at the corner of the street is to check with your friend(s) an hour before if he/she will be on time on site, or with delay.
In terms of excuses when someone is being late a couple of tips to understand the real meaning :
- Apenas estoy saliendo (I am just about to go out now) : means … I am still under the shower preparing myself.
- Ya casi llego (I am almost there) : means… I am still an hour away.
- Ahora, ahorita, and all the rest of these… (now, almost now) means absolutely nothing, it can be now… in 1 hour, 2 hours of even tomorrow.
I tend to press people to give me a proper time frame so I am not getting impatient for no reasons 😉
The mall culture
Going to the mall, seems to be part of the culture as a family Sunday destination, but also between friends. The malls are pretty huge and high standards with all the brands you may expect, over 3 to 6 floors, including cinemas (what we have in Europe and especially in Switzerland would turn out being a pocket mall) and food court.
Going to the mall from a Swiss perspective, sounds boring and nonsense, unless you wanna go to the movies or go shopping, but going to the mall for a coffee sounds terrible when you can have a nice coffee on a terrace in the sun. The mall is also where you will usually have the worst fast food in the world (KFC, McDonalds and others alike), and what is complete nonsense is the price of hamburgers, compared to an average “menu of the day” in a standard restaurant. We are talking more than double the price for fast food. So… getting fat has a price….
Smiling and talking is a natural way of being for Colombians
Smiling sounds like an easy thing to do. But you will be amazed how often you are welcomed with a smile, from any Colombian in any situation, even talking with complete random people. Colombians have an incredible genuine friendly way of being.
Let’s take an example that a lot of Swiss and other Europeans people shared with me along the trip (and please note that I am not refering to the man looking for a sexual relationship or as such, but just getting to know someone new on the social level) :
If you are in the street and you see a girl you want to talk to for a quick talk, in Colombia she will happily answers you and may offer to help or even take the time to have a coffee.
In Switzerland, in most case scenario, people are afraid of “unknown people”, so she would react negatively wondering why you’re talking to her, because she doesn’t know you and avoid contact, walking away (Obviously if someone doesn’t talk to someone new, there is little chance that they will get to know each other… ).
So yes, Colombians have a natural strong social ability to be open and friendly to new people, and I think anyone on the planet should take them as an example.
Paying the bill
The culture being “machista”, where the man decides pretty much everything in a relationship. It also means that the guys are paying for everything for the girls. Which… could become slightly expensive on a traveler’s budget.
So everybody knows that Colombia has beautiful girls, but…there is a few categories you may want to avoid. Especially the Gringo Hunters ones. First you need to be aware that a tourist is being seen as someone with money.
So within the zona rosa in Medellin, if a lot of girls are smiling at you, it’s not always because they want to get to know you, but it’s sometimes because they expect you to pay the bill (sometimes abusively) and some of them are actually pretty good at this little game, and You may not even get a “thank you”. These ones are more focused on their appearance and completely materialistic and may end up having little to say in a discussion.
So unless you don’t really care about your money, they are lots of nice, friendly, interesting and more independent girls who will be very happy to spend time with you without looking at you as a walking bank.
Truth remains, if you invite a girl on a proper “date” you’re the one expected to pay the bill, it’s “normal”.
Wherever you’re from, the better way to meet locals and to earn respect is to adapt your clothing style to the ones you see people wearing. This will help you engage easilier with the locals
So if you think it’s OK to have the Australian beach style all the time (flip flop, shorts and widely open shirt showing your chest hair), you’re wrong. Unless you’re on the beach in Cartagena, anywhere else you’d be seen as an idiot, someone who seems to be poorly dressed up or neglected.
Just open your eyes and notice how the girls (and the guys) take care of themselves when going out. Girls spend hours taking care of their clothing, their hair, their nails, make up, and so on… .
So if you think showing up like “Tarzan” will make a good impression…go back to school.
Conservatism and fake boobies
These are two realities in Colombia, most of the Colombians are Catholics and talking about sex or having sex under the roof of the parents is an abolut no go. Reason why, there is an extremely well developed “motel market”. And what remains funny, is that it’s all “secret and hidden” so as a couple you enter the place either with your own car or usually with a taxi, and you will never have a face to face contact with the motel staff, it’s all remote. Bottom line, that allows anyone to have relationship with anyone in secret.
Talking about fake boobies and butts and lipos, it’s a sad reality of a roughly 30% of girls in Medellin, it’s a long story to explain why its still so much within the culture. But it has it’s roots back when the Cartel de Medellin was strong and that poor girls saw their way out of poverty by investing in breast implants to get the attention of a rich narcos. Today the Cartel de Medellin is still active, but nothing like before. What remains is this “breast implant” culture because latin guys tend to like the big curves, so the girls do not really hesitate to do the “crazy step”. And because it’s possible to pay it via credit…you’re allowed to pay your brand new tits over a few years.
Which is something completely crazy from a European perspective and out of budget reach.
Truth is Medellin has become a world destination for affordable and high tech plastic surgery.
If you go out at night in Medellin, you will not be shocked by a LOT of women as such, but only a few.
So one side, you have the strong catholicism and on the other one you have the women’s pride to show a lot of curves. All this on a very sexual reggaeton music bit… .
Recycling (and throwing trash through the bus window)
What shocked me is that people throw their junk through the bus window as if the whole side of the street would be a proper trash.
- Who’s gonna take care of all this trash ?
- Do you realize, as a Colombian, that you do have a beautiful country, so why do you keep on making it ugly by throwing trash everywhere ?
I even dared asking an old lady as soon as she threw a plastic paper “hey, why do you throw this in the nature ? why don’t you keep it until you can find a proper bin ?” She just smiled at me stupidly, while having no answer to my question. Laziness and lack of understanding of the consequences of such act are the reason of it.
Both of these questions, I believe don’t ever cross the mind of most people for lack of education and sensibilisation to this topic. Which is surprising, because in most parks and maybe even more presently in Medellin, you will find the three bins (pet, organic and ordinary trash), so recycling is present at some places but it’s only the start of it.
So until all Colombians from all “estratos” will be aware of this, and act responsibly, there is still a lot to do…