What’s it like meeting with Colombian People?
Colombia, a country bursting with color, culture, and a spirit as vibrant as its tropical landscapes is home to people who are just as diverse. Here, we won’t focus on the distinct flavors of paisas, rolos, or coastal dwellers, but rather, the typical Colombian ethos and what makes them tick in their day-to-day lives.
The Colombia of yesteryears (the one you’ve probably heard of), marred by violence and drug trafficking, has changed for the better. However, these outdated stereotypes still overshadow the true spirit of the Colombian population.
I live in Colombia, and here is what I’ve learned.
Dream makers 😎
Typical characteristics of Colombians
Everyone is different. True enough. But here are the general traits you’ll find in the vast majority of the inhabitants.
1# Colombians: Creativity and Resilience
One characteristic that stands out among Colombians is their creative streak. As someone in love with Colombia since 2015, I’ve never ceased to be impressed by the ingenious solutions Colombians come up with to solve everyday problems.
Are you wandering the streets of Bogota without a phone and urgently need to make a call? No worries. You’ll find someone selling phone minutes on the next corner. Or perhaps you’re stuck in a gridlock, and your stomach grumbles. Relax. A Colombian will inevitably pass by on the bus to sell snacks.
In a country where more than 50% of jobs are informal, Colombians have an uncanny knack for creating a source of income out of thin air.
By looking at their past, you’ll realize they had no choice.
Between economic challenges, insecurity, immigration, and the absence of a state presence, Colombians have had to show resilience.
2# Colombians: The Life of the Party
Think of Colombians, and the image of a festive crowd comes to mind.
It’s no surprise, considering Colombia hosts some of the year’s most vibrant carnivals and festivals.
Colombians believe in celebrating everything. From birthdays, baby showers, and Dia del Amor y del Amistad (Valentine’s Day) to the 15th and 30th of the month, every occasion is a reason to gather friends, decorate with balloons, and dance to the rhythm of the music. Because life, according to Colombians, is too dull without a little fiesta.
3# Colombians: The Relaxed Approach to Life
If Colombians have mastered one art, it’s the art of living life at a leisurely pace. Why rush through life when you can savor every moment? While some cultures prefer meticulous planning, Colombians thrive on spontaneity. The thrill of last-minute plans adds an adrenaline rush that keeps life interesting and fuels their creative spark.
As a Frenchman, this Colombian approach to life is something I appreciate but have found challenging when it comes to planning or working. But hey, that’s the beauty of cultural differences, right? The key lies in understanding and embracing these nuances to appreciate a country and its people truly.
4# Colombians are adorable
Get lost in Colombia? Don’t worry. Colombians are here to help.
Their genuine kindness and hospitality are legendary. If you find yourself in a pickle, a local passerby will not only give you directions but might even escort you to your destination.
This warmth extends to their businesses, too. No matter which Colombian city you land in, expect to be greeted by citizens with open arms and a sincere smile.
It can also be a double-edged sword, as they don’t like to disappoint—at least in front of someone. So they’d tell you what you want to hear rather than tell you the truth. Life example: They’ll tell you they’re coming to your party when they already know they can’t go.
5# Colombians Wear Their National Pride on Their Sleeves
Colombians have an infectious pride for their country, and it’s not just about soccer. Yes, they will remind you of their victory over France in a friendly match just before the World Cup. But it goes far beyond the football field.
They revel in the rich literary legacy of their Nobel laureate, Gabriel García Márquez, and dance to the rhythm of Grammy-winning artists such as Carlos Vives, Juanes, and Shakira. Each achievement is a collective celebration that loudly proclaims Colombia is not defined by its notorious past but by its vibrant culture and talent.
6# Happiness is a Way of Life in Colombia
Life in Colombia can be challenging, but you wouldn’t know it from the smiles. The garbage collector, the cleaner, the street fruit vendors, the cashiers – most Colombians you meet, regardless of their occupation, find a reason to smile.
Public displays of anger or rudeness are frowned upon. Instead, Colombians embrace a culture of cheerfulness that is, quite frankly, infectious. It’s a refreshing perspective that could teach the best of us a thing or two about finding joy in the everyday.
So, if you feel a bit grumpy, take a leaf out of the Colombian book of happiness. It might just be the best souvenir you bring back from your trip.
How to be as Happy as a Colombian
Happiness is a complicated thing to define.
But surely there are “general” rules for living a more pleasant life?
Here is what Colombia People do.
7# Slow Down
Take it easy, will you? What’s the big hurry, anyway?
Have you ever felt that you’re almost always holding your breath anxiously?
Why don’t you try the following?
Stop trying to push that poor Señora out of the way to get to that “ultra important” meeting with someone you don’t care much about anyway. Learn to love the amble!
Even if you get there late, blame it on the traffic! Nobody’s going to worry that much. Probably.
Take your time to enjoy your surroundings. OK, it might be a tad easier here with Colombia’s spectacular megadiversity, but other places can be nice, too.
Step one in learning how to be as happy as a Colombian is learning how to step like a Colombian. Walk slow, dawg.
8# Don’t stress out
This advice goes hand in hand with “slow down,” but you must take the concept further.
In the end, there are very few situations worth worrying about.
→ Can you see a shark fin coming towards you? Okay, you can start stressing.
→ Bus not here yet? Too bad, go buy a juice on the corner.
Life will seem much sweeter by looking for a solution to improve the situation instead of getting angry.
9# Eat more fruits
You know those fancy juice bars springing up like St. John’s Wort all over the Western world?
We here in Colombia scoff at such tosh.
Nothing beats walking (slowly, now) to the corner for the freshest, most delicious orange juice you’re ever likely to taste – all for less than a buck.
And that’s just the beginning.
Do you know there are 150 different types of fruit readily available here in Colombia? Neither do I, but there are definitely more kinds than those sad, sorry, cold-storage apples and oranges you’re used to back home. Most of the fruits here don’t even have an English name.
Trust me: here, at least, fruit = happiness. Think I’m wrong? Come over here and prove it, then. I’ll buy you a lulo shake if you do.
10# Dance, You Say? I Will Never Dance
I’ve got some sad news to break to you.
“Dancing” doesn’t solely entail drinking 12 Vodka Red Bulls and then “ironically” dancing the Macarena or Gangnam Style. It doesn’t exclusively entail waving your hands around and pointing to the DJ while nodding your head.
You may not believe me, but you too may pick up at least the basic steps of salsa or cumbia.
You may not win any competitions in Cali any time soon, but you can give it a go. Suppose you relax a little (point 1 above) and have enough vitamins in your system (point 2). In that case, you’ll find friendly Colombian people wildly enthusiastic about your dance steps as harmonious as a robot and out of tempo. One shot or two of guaro might help with this.
Conversations You’ll Almost Definitely Have With Colombians
Most Colombians are a friendly bunch, no doubt about it. To get on their good side, brush up on your answers to these conversation starters.
11# “You need to be careful.”
Sometimes, one needs to be careful. In any country in Latin America, there are places where it’s best to keep your wits about you or, indeed, think twice about going. Things can happen, I’m not going to deny it, and it’s good to be aware of possible dangers.
But, to be continually reminded to take care, in pretty much any situation, by a genuinely concerned Colombian, may be touching and well-intentioned, but it can also make you feel like the boy in the bubble.
Still, if several Colombians in a row tell you, “don’t go there,” it’s better to listen to them. 😉
12# Gasp “Hablas español!”
It’s to my eternal pride and dismay that, when meeting a Colombian, the first exchange usually goes like this:
Colombian: “Hola, ¿como estas?”
Me: “Bien gracias, ¿que mas?”
Colombian: “Uuuyyyy pero hablas español muy bien!”
And there, at once, my new Colombian friend will begin to speak indecipherable, rapid Spanish.
I’m proud that my first four words would give someone the impression that I speak Spanish very well, but “que mas” is kind of a no-brainer here. As soon as you arrive from Gringolandia you’re taught to say it, even if you can’t quite grasp why on earth you’re saying it and what it actually means.
My dearest new Colombian friend, please assume – until it becomes clear otherwise – that “que mas” is just a mumbling, nervous cover-up for an inability to speak Spanish fluently. Grarsyarse.
13# “How about Colombian food, eh?!”
- Fact: No foreigner can escape a conversation without being asked about Colombian food.
- Fact: Confusion will ensue unless you claim it to be some of the best you’ve ever tried.
- Fact: For many Colombians, no matter where you come from, your food won’t be as good as theirs. Don’t get involved; it’s not worth it.
- Fact: The conversation will swiftly move to arepas.
- Fact: If you say you don’t like them, prepare for every Colombian in the vicinity to ask, in turn, but have you tried the arepas from X region of Colombia?
- Fact: You won’t have tried the arepas from every region, so at least one person there will smugly come away from the conversation convinced that, since you haven’t tried their region’s arepa, that they’re the best.
- Fact: They’re probably not the best.
14# “How about Colombian Women?”
Now, this isn’t only asked by Colombian men. Colombians of any gender have been guilty of this stumper of a question.
To answer this, one has to steer between the Charybdis of being impolite and the Scylla of feeling like a creep.
Is it better to reply, “Oh, I think women of this nation are quite nice, but I’m not interested,” and risk coming across as unappreciative of half an entire population; or to say, “I think they’re gorgeous,” and feel like you’ve just come from watching a porno flick alone in a seedy girly cinema while wearing a leather trenchcoat.
What exactly is your modern-day Odysseus meant to do in such perilous waters?
15# “Where do you know in Colombia?”
Colombians are, without fail, very interested in where you’ve been in their country. Thanks to decades of being completely off the tourist path, there remains an interest and surprise in what foreigners are up to, where they’re going, and what they enjoy as they travel Colombia.
The conversation will inevitably go as follows:
You: “Uhhhh, Cartagena…”
Colombian: “Uyyy, rico, no?”
You: “Yeh, it’s great. Umm, Bogotá, Medellín, the Coffee zone…”
Colombian: “Wow, you know a lot!”
You: “Haha (sheepishly) yeh. Errr, La Guajira, Taganga, Santa Marta, San Gil…”
Colombian: “Uufff! You know more of Colombia than I do!”
You: “Yeh… I guess that’s the advantage of working in the tourism industry…”
And you tail off there because mentioning El Cocuy, the Amazon, Sapzurro, El Chocó, Capurgana, and the rest just seems rude now.
16# “You should be dancing. Yeah.”
Although I have learned the basics of Salsa after an eternity and a half, I’d have to say that it wasn’t straightforward for this rhythmless white boy to stumble his way to his current level of humble expertise. I’ll admit that I’ve had access to plenty of phenomenally patient, accomplished assistance from concerned Colombians, but then there is another breed of local advice, too.
(1) “Just relax.”
(2) “Just listen to the beat.”
(3) “Feel the music.”
Let me deconstruct these little gems from my perspective.
(1) One of the worst things you could ever tell a disoriented, nervous, and clumsy gringo after you’ve forced them onto a dance floor crowded with graceful, effortless Colombians moving in beautiful yet incomprehensible steps is to relax. For the simple reason that this brings attention to the fact you’ve been desperately trying to hide – that you’re not relaxed.
(2) I could listen to the beat til the cows came home. That doesn’t mean that my stiff back or self-conscious hips will know what to do about that.
(3) To tell you the truth, being told by someone who has most likely been blithely salsa-ing since birth in an environment saturated with music doesn’t inspire you with much confidence or goodwill. Sorry, would-be partner: I think I need to go the bathroom. To sulk for half an hour.
Author’s note: This article was originally published by Paul on the site www.seeColombia.travel. It has now been edited by Thomas Espeute, following the acquisition of SeeColombia.travel by Tomplanmytrip.
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