Monday, July 19, 2010


Here in Colombia, there are sub-cultural assumptions and stereotypes people make about different regions. I like to call them "Regional-isms." In some ways this is a global phenomenon. It is perfectly natural to identify ways in which we are similar and different from others. For example, some of my friends in the east coast think I lived on land in Kansas surrounded by cowboys and cattle. Here, these differences seem more exaggerated, and emphasized in many parts of society. I think that some of this comes from the old-fashioned notion of Haciendas, where "your people" and "their people" are separated in work, in daily activities, and in property/region. It also stems from the strain of clasism, war, and racism due to colonialism, which created all kinds of different groups of people vying for rights to land, wealth, and property. Our good friends believe there are geographical factors that contribute to these divisions, such as the mountainous terrain, and other natural, physical divisions between areas of Colombia.

I have found that here it is much more common and less "taboo" to throw out these assumptions and even stereotypes about people. Or, perhaps they are just more noticeable to an "extranjero" where the locals have just internalized and normalized them. One of our family's favorite telenovela shows depicts characters from some of these categories in an over-inflated and humorous way.

The following is a collection of the most common stereotypes we have heard. I must say that these come from our conversations with Colombians, who are admittedly biased based on their own background/region. Colombians are fiercely proud of "their land" and openly admit their pride and bias when discussing other parts of Colombia. Most of the information I am sharing comes from the perspective of people in Bogota. Please understand that these are not based in any kind of scientific research, and they are not meant to offend anyone from any particular region of Colombia. I only want to share them because of their colorful description of yet another layer of diversity in this beautiful country of Colombia. I would be very pleased to receive revisions/additions to these understandings. There is always more to learn.

In Boyaca, there tends to be cooler weather. It is made up of small farms, producing potatoes, panela, and other cool weather crops. Campesinos there wear the virgin wool "ruanas", or panchos. They are considered more closed, and in this region trust and loyalty is extremely important. In fact, they can be known to be aggressive, in defense of an amigo or family member. They are generally hard working, and because of this it is sometimes assumed that they are dirty. They drink beer as if it were water, during any time of the day, at any age. They often us formal language.

Paisas: Paisas come from the region of Medellin, Antioquia, and the coffee region of Colombia. They generally have very large families, and tend to be a closed community. They eat large meals (origin of the Bandeja Paisa), are the most indirect in a conflict, and are very good at selling things. They are considered hard working, tight with their money, and very proud of their accomplishments.

Santenderanos: In this region of Colombia, people are extremely open and direct, so much that people are scared to confront them. The women are very direct and "strong-talking." The people here are extremely animated and humorous.

Costenos: Costenos are from a very hot climate. They are known for wearing revealing clothing, being highly sexual, and enjoying nightlife and parties. They also are very warm and friendly, and quick to trust, but especially welcome other Costenos (it is hard to be trusted and be an "outsider.") The men tend to have one wife, but many lovers, and whiskey is the "normal" drink of choice, at any time of the day. They are considered very open, lazy (sleepy) and friendly. They have a laid back attitude, and there are no traffic rules. They are "pushy" and sometimes offensive.

Indios are largely indigenous people, who have amazing artisan creativity, are separated from the "civilized" parts of the country, and stay to themselves. Conflicts are handled in a very indirect way. They are considered uneducated, and people consider them "child-like" and take pity on them. There is an assumption that they cannot function in society, even though some groups have beautiful and productive communities largely untouched by outsiders. They live in small groups and enjoy a simple life.

Chocuanos: The population in Choco is almost completely Afro-Colombian. There are a lot of connections to African cultural norms and music. They are sometimes considered lazy and unorganized. They are known for various herbal and spiritual remedies for illnesses. They are warm, very loud, friendly, and embracing.

Cachacos come from the Bogota area. They are very polite, careful, and use formal manners. They tend to be more distant and it is harder to get to know them. They are organized and sometimes uptight. They are generally well educated. They can be considered cold and unkind, snobby and dangerous.

Llanos is the plains region of Colombia where the true Colombian Cowboy lives. They have a strong personality, are hardworking, timid with new people, and they tend to have large, sprawling farms, so they do not know their neighbors. They keep to themselves.


  1. It was interesting to note how annoyed I felt as I read the Costeño description. You are right, this is exactly how a Costeño would be perceived by a Bogotano, and this is why people like my fiance have felt so much outright discrimination and racism when trying to encounter a job here in Bogota. The stereotypes are amusing to hear as an outsider, perhaps because they are so unabashedly politically incorrect, but they also have painful, real-life implications for Colombians themselves, when they try to make a life for themselves in other parts of the country. Costeños might tell you that Bogotanos are hypocritical, stuck up and unfaithful in relationships while they (Costeños) are sincere, much more respectful in their way of addressing elders, and honest in comparison.

  2. Yes, Shalom. Thank you so much for writing a comment. I am always wanting more feedback. I wrote about this not because I was amused, but more because it is a phenomenon which I find interesting. I am shocked by the common ways this happens...the stereotypes we hear on a regular basis. I pray for more healing and understanding among all the people here in Colombia, on many levels. There is no doubt that the pain suffered from discrimination and prejudice is deep and should be central to this discussion.