Colombia has a special place in my heart, a place I would call my second home. I was fortunate to be able to live in the country to learn the language, travel, immerse in the culture and their way of life.
Some things amused me while I was not so amused with some. Ultimately, I embraced them to be part of experiencing Colombia.
Here are 10 things I have learned about Colombia, it’s people and culture.
1) Tranquilo/ Tranquila
I frequently hear this word. My Uber driver will tell me this when I search my wallet frantically to pay him. People would tell me this when I apologised for being late for my appointment. Or when I accidentally stepped on someone’s foot, the person will tell me tranquila too.
So what is tranquila? Tranquilo/ tranquila (depending if you are a man or woman) is similar to tranquil in English. It means to relax, calm down and do not worry.
Colombians are always tranquilo/ tranquila which is a vast difference from the life in Singapore. Being tranquil also speaks about the concept of time…
2) Concept of time
I would like to clarify that this does not happen just in Colombia but also in other parts of South America. The concept of time is like water because it is fluid.
Buses, classes, appointments, you name it. That also means to adapt to the culture and you do not need to feel bad about arriving late. Sometimes when you are late, the person you are meeting is even later. So, tranquila. 😉
3) Affectionate people
“Hola” and “¿Cómo está/s?” which means, hello and how are you are part of greeting someone. So are hugs and kisses.
It is common for people to say hi, go in for a kiss on the right cheek, then a hug follows by how are you. It removes all invisible defensive barriers and more open and receiving to others.
I love the warmth of Colombians.
Colombians are one of the friendliest people I have ever met, Welcoming, warm and sincere.
I met many lovely angels in Colombia and they made my experience in Colombia incredible!
Nathalia accompanied me to a mobile phone repair shop of a friend’s friend because I needed some help with translation. The boss of the shop, Jesus did not want me to have a bad impression of Colombia (as the shop I visited previously to fix my mobile removed some components from it while fixing my screen). He came to my rescue and accompanied me back to the first shop to demand for those missing components.
Bumping into Paola and Santiago was the best thing that happened in Barichara when I decided to wing a weekend trip with a couple of friends. They took us into the hostel they were staying in and we had an amazing weekend.
Laura, a girl from Bogota agreed to keep my luggage while I travelled South America with my backpack.
Clara, my host lady whom I was staying with for my 4 months in Bucaramanga. She is one of the kindest and most accommodating women. When I returned to Bucaramanga for 5 days after my South America trip, I stay put in her place. In fact, she even gave up her room for me to sleep in during my stay because she was renting my previous room to a Mexican. That hospitality caught me by surprise. She is such a sweetheart because she even remembered my living habits!
Of course, there are still many more heroes/heroines in my life which I am grateful for.
Gestures are important. Thank you cards, flowers and gifts are appreciated in the culture. It is the way to say thanks and I appreciate everything that you have done.
When Colombians asked me how we dance in Singapore, I will sheepishly confess that we dance in a trashy way. It is true.
Colombians know their dance and that is an understatement. They possess rhythms like it is in their blood.
Watch them dance to the rhythm and see how their bodies move. Be wowed!
Those dance lessons in school were a confidence booster. They enable me to go on the dance floor. I have to admit I have patient and great dance partners who were able to guide me too!
It is a typical liquor of Colombia made of sugar cane. Some like to drink it neat, at least I do and some drink aguardiente mixed with beer. It is perfect for cold places like Bogota or Tunja.
Colombia is one of the countries that sit along the fault line of Pacific Ring of Fire. A couple of tremors happened when I was there, those were pretty minor that I hardly felt them. So if you feel that the building is moving, you are probably right that it is an earthquake.
9) SIM card registration
The Colombian government wanted to crack down stolen phones hence they came up with a policy. You have to register your IMEI number with the telco company you purchase your SIM card from.
If the IMEI number is not registered, the phone will be shut down making it completely useless.
Now, it may seem as easy as it sound, press *#06# to retrieve the IMEI number and get it registered. Well, here comes the complicated part.
You need to present the proof of purchase in hard copy that your phone is bought overseas. Which is ridiculous because why would you pack it for your trip abroad?
I happened to have my receipt in soft-copy when I bought it online but they only accept it in hard copy. It means I had to find some means to get it printed out.
I was in a Claro telco store with some friends. Then eventually, one of us managed to explain our situation and finally a staff gave us a form to sign. We got our mobile phones registered immediately. Till this day, I have no idea what kind of form we signed as everything was in Spanish. FYI, my Spanish was near zero when I first landed in Colombia.
Some of my friends got our Colombian coordinator to help them with the registration. Some did not get a SIM card because somehow the brands and/or models were not compatible.
I am not sure how it works but these are one of those times you will realise it is worth paying premium prices for brands such as Apple and Samsung.
10) Live music at 12
One night, I was woken up from my sleep at 12 midnight, the one day that I decided to sleep early for I was nursing a cold.
I woke up annoyed. I wondered how can people be inconsiderate enough to blast their sound system in the middle of the night. I shouted from my room asking them to shut up (Literally, in English too!) but of course that was to no avail.
When I opened my room door, my host lady and everyone in the house including the dog and cat were sleeping soundly. It seemed as though I was hallucinating!
I opened the main door of the house and traced the sound of the music. 4 men were serenading a couple who were swaying to the music looking very much in love.
At that moment, I felt like a Grinch. The Grinch who could not allow romance and love to be in the air nor their happiness be shared and spread.
I walked up to the security to ask what was happening and how long goes it has to go on for in very broken Spanish. He replied with a shrug that the performance needed 5 minutes more.
The whole incident felt so surreal because it seems like I am the only one who was getting worked up over it. Very unreal.
Checked with my host lady, my professor and a few Colombian friends, I came to learn that it is common in Colombia. People hire bands to serenade at midnights for birthdays and anniversaries. When that happens, the whole neighbourhood will just ignore the music and go back to sleep.
This comes being the most cultural shock incident that ever happened to me.
At least if I return back to Colombia and it happens, I will not be the Grinch and just sleep on.
These are what made my stay in Colombia an interesting one.
There are probably a lot more which I have yet discovered for myself. These made my stay in Colombia an interesting one.
Do you have any interesting experiences in Colombia too?