Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Fourth Month in Colombia

We do not yet feel like time is going quickly, probably because we are still wading through a fairly steep learning curve, and each month there is more that we discover about Colombian culture. These lists have helped us document what we have learned, and have pushed us to ask questions in order to learn more. Please understand that these are simply our observations. We want to share them with you, but we also do not want to contribute to stereotyping. This list does not apply to ALL Colombians.

Colombians decorate for Christmas very early, but do not turn lights on until December 8. Palm trees are included in nativity sets and other decorations.

Disposible coffee cups look like pudding/yogurt cups (with a little rim on the edge).

When showing how tall a child is, you put your hand like this.

When showing how tall an animal is, you put your hand like this.

When there is a red light, street vendors run out and place items for sale (cell phone chargers, candy, fresh fruit, pirated movies, drinks, newspapers) on the windshield, rear view mirror, or window of the car. Then, before the light turns green, then run back and pick up the items that were not sold. We are always amazed at their impecable timing for this task.

Toilet paper and bathroom lights are usually outside of the bathroom.

There are many dogs on the street. Bogota is a very dog-friendly place. However, they are NOT like the dogs we experiences in Mexico. They are very well behaved, don't bark or growl at you, and simply walk by, as if they were another being on the street like you. Dogs are taken care of by everyone.

Dog-walking is a common service here. We have heard that some will walk your dog for three hours per day. We have seen dog-walkers here with up to 10-12 dogs at once.

In our household, it was common to call one of the kids "chico" or "chica." We learned this in Mexico, and it stuck with us. Here they do not use those terms at all. Instead it is "Nino" or "Nina."

Colombians do not generally say "Adios" for goodbye. It is much more common to say "Chao."

Using grid/graph paper is more common here than simply lined paper. Jen likes this.

Goals and Objectives are switched around here. "Objectivos" are the more general, overall thing (like our goals) and "Metas" are the more detailed, "how-to" thing (like our objectives.

If you dream about snakes here, it means you have trouble with debt.

Hot dogs come corporately and individually wrapped in plastic. (Oops, Andy had to eat a bite of plastic in order for us to figure this one out.)

Adults sometimes do the potty dance.

Personal space here is very close. It is very common for us to feel crowded in a personal conversation because people are comfortable standing/sitting very close to you.

Jay walking is a very common occurrence here. People cross the street however, and wherever they can.

People are ALWAYS recognized/greeted, even if you are walking into a meeting late.

"Oracion" is a word which means both a prayer and a sentence. (hmmm.)

We think that it is more commonly accepted to do other things during meetings here. It seems like people talk on cell phones, text, check email, or make other connections, even during a work meeting.

When you hurt yourself (no matter how) you are supposed to pour water on it. We discovered this during one of Andy's basketball games when someone twisted their ankle, and they ran to get some water to pour on it.

Street vendors take anything with wheels (strollers, grocery carts, bikes, carts, even a remodeled porta-potty) and transform it into a mini-tienda to sell things. Usually they sell chips, gum, candy, drinks, individual cigarettes, cell phone minutes, peanuts, fresh juice, or fruit salad.

It is pretty common to eat cold hot dogs for breakfast.

Public display of affection is very common here (thought of you, Toby and Megan).

Colombians spell "haha" like "jeje" and it is pronounced "huahua."

Colombians believe in cooties. If a seat on the bus opens up, and someone unpleasant was sitting there, they kind of "hover" over the seat for awhile. We were told this is because they need to let the "hot air" of that person go away before sitting on it and absorbing it.

Recently our family took a picnic to the recreation center where we like to go swimming and skating. We ate sandwiches, veggies, chips, etc. We were stared at the entire time, and we did not understand why. Then we learned that upper and middle class Colombians do not go on picnics. Picnics are reserved for the lower class, and when they do go, they cook a large pot of chicken, rice, vegetables, etc and they all sit around the pot, each dishing out what they want to eat. We later witnessed this at the park.

The garbage trucks here play recorded music (like ice cream trucks in the US) to let you know they are coming.

Honking a horn in a car is used for communication. It can mean any of the following:
get out of my way
move, please
I am backing up now
hey friend, how are you doing?
would you like a ride in my taxi?
I am coming around this corner


  1. They use the grid paper in France, too! I've always liked that. There's something very satisfying about writing on a graph.
    There seems less "new" this month--you are settling in! Thanks for the observations.

  2. WONDERFUL list! I can't WAIT to get there and see it ALL. I want to see it ALL.

  3. as i keep saying, i love these lists. we saw dog walkers like that in buenos aires. and "chao" is common in uy and argentina. my favorite on this list is "oracion"

  4. "Oracion" is my favorite, too. And the potty dance.

    I love these lists. I hope you never run out of "new" things. But then again, I hope you do...

  5. Thank you for these lists, I get so much out of them; but out of this one I can only think, "Megan will be mortified."

  6. I've already had the PDA discussion with Toby concerning Barcelona :) I too am experiencing a few things on your list!
    a) Graph paper, while buying school supplies it was all I could find. Not my favorite unfortunately.
    b) Christmas lights. They've been set up in the streets of Barca for 3 weeks now and I'm dying to see them lit up!
    c) "Chao" is said a lot here. I'm saying it more now too. I feel so refined :)

  7. This list is so great, it's so nice to remind myself of all the unique things here that I've gotten used to. It's like seeing Colombia through fresh eyes again. I think I learned about the "objective" and "goal" one with you!

  8. Your list made me laugh. You probably don't see this so much in Bogota, but in La Mesa, people would get on the bus and say "Buenos Dias" in a loud voice to the whole bus. I loved it!

  9. I love the fact about how everyone is kind to their dog. Do you know if they take them to pooch school or what?

    I always told my co-teacher "chao-der" (chowder... I know... d.u.m.b... it was the best I could do for trying to be goofy with Spanish) and she amused me by saying it back to me, too.

  10. oh, i love this. i've reread it a couple of times now. i giggle each time.

    it reminds me of carol talking about kansas culture....i should ask her to make a list.

    grid paper, hot dogs, individual cigarettes, oracion, and sweet mother-garbage trucks that play music?!?!?!?

    i love it.

  11. Yes, the graph paper is something to get used to, but with so much emphasis in France on precise ecriture (handwriting), it's really helpful. I LOVE (and so will Naomi when I tell her) that the dogs of Colombia are so well respected and loved by all - that seems to be a novel sign of advanced human sensibility in this crazy world! Love your lists...

  12. I'm a Colombian currently living in Canada, and I have to say, despite many differences in my religious views, your blog is absolutely charming. It is fascinating to see an "outside" view of "us," and have it be so well observed and candid.

    As a side note, the whole sitting thing with the "hot air" is for additional reasons. Imagine sitting down on a packed bus with leather/plastic seats and no a/c in a tropical place. On really hot days, and with short skirts or shorts that expose the flesh, people can easily leave sweat puddles. It's a fact! That's why we wait! It's not just superstition... For the most part, Colombians are neat-freakingly clean.