L’oeil révélateur (🇬🇧)

Today, I just feel like telling you about my first weeks in Bogota, Colombia, from July 20th and on. Would this be the famous « culture shock » that one may experience moving to another country? I assume that the important gaps that separate the French social, educational and economic fields from the Colombian ones are due to the different history of the two Latin-language-based countries.


At first sight, the cultural barrier between France and Colombia does not seem too thick.


Yet, arriving in Colombia, I was surprised by the overall use of the pronoun « ustedes » instead of « vosotros« . Indeed, Latin-Americans entirely abandoned the « vosotros« . Moreover, although a « Colombian Spanish » could not exist since there are numerous regional dialects, I was able to notice the generalized « seseo » phenomenon. In Colombia as in other South-American countries, people do not make a difference in the pronunciation of the « h » and the « j », nor of the « z », the « s » and the « c ».

On the Caribbean coast, people speak the “costeño” Colombian, which sounds just like the Venezuelan accent. If you travel to the region the “cafetaleros”, in Medellin and its surroundings, you will be struck by the musical way they are expressing themselves. It is well-known that the “paisa” accent is the sexiest one, even more for women, just like the one from Cali. However, when professionals announced that the best talked Spanish in the whole world is the Colombian one, they were referring to the “rolo” accent, from Bogota. It is really easy to understand, compared to all the others.

Now about the vocabulary (I will dedicate an entire article about the comparison between the Colombian and the Mexican vocabulary) , it may be useful for you to know the meaning of some typically Colombian expressions, such as : « a la orden » (used by sellers) ; « que estés bien » (goodbye) ; « chevere » (to express satisfaction) ; “marica” (pal).  On top of the language differences, Colombian people are well-known for their enthusiasm of reaction, that stands contradictory to the French passiveness.


Fruits in the Paloquemao Market

This diversity could also be expressed in cuisine. Indeed, the overwhelming variety of fruits will surprise more than one European. For example, it is normal to realize the existence of completely unknown fruits in the Paloquemao market, such as « lulo« , « nispero« , « carambolo« , « uchuva« , « zapote« , « maracuya« , « pitaya« , « guanábana« , « mango« … Finally, as a stranger, I am always surprised to witness the enormous amount of meat that a Colombian-born person can eat in a day. Dishes are often laden with meat, accompanied by an egg, some rice and potatoes : no one could ever be starving, compared with the light traditional French plates that just contain one type of meat.


As far as the educational system is concerned, organizational distinctions can be pointed out. In Colombia, students join the University way earlier. This is why it is not surprising to find 16-year-old student in the first year of a degree. But it can take longer for students to obtain their diploma. In France, students obtain a degree if they complete three years of studies. Moreover, French students can pass to the next year if their average mark is superior to 10 out of 20, even if they did not validate one class. At the opposite, in Colombia, students can only validate a course if their mark is superior to 3 out of 5. On the other hand, the Colombian academic system is apart from the French one. It is usual to find more private universities than public ones; whereas in France, when a university is not financed by the State, it is a specialized private school where one studies engineering or commerce. Also, classes in France are more theoretical than in Colombia, even the language ones. Group works are sidelined since professors prefer individual production to emphasize personal success rather than interaction. In addition, Colombian students are used to call their professors by their first name. In France, the polite way to address professors is to call them « Miss » or « Sir ». Calling a teacher by its first name shows a clear lack of respect. To put it in a nutshell, studying in Colombia is changed the way I saw school !


View of Bogotá from the Colpatría Tower

However welcoming and open-minded the Colombian population might be, the clichés about the lack of security and crimes are not proved to be out of time. Crime rates remain high. It can take the shape of kidnapping narco consumers to ask for ransoms, pick pocketing in public transportation… Tackling this subject underlines a major difference with France, especially with my city, Paris. Although it is not clean and safe all the way, one does not feel insecure walking down the streets and texting at the same time. On the contrary, as a resident of La Candelaria, I swear to you that when it becomes dark, the desert streets frighten me.

Nonetheless, as a globalized capital, even Paris has less developed districts in which it is not recommended to walk alone during the night, or to show off one’s precious belongings. These areas are located in the eastern suburban zone. About Bogota, the city is divided in three main parts: the marginalized South; the historical centre named La Candelaria; and the rich and modern northern part. As a foreigner, I got surprised catching a glimpse of such a social difference in the same urban area.

Furthermore, the recklessness of Colombian driving is terrible! I do not know if it is related to the fact that they are extremely flexible with timing -at the opposite of the traditional French way of life-, but tourists just have to board on a taxi or a Transmilenio (bus) to feel as if they were on a rollercoaster in Disneyland.

Well. I think that this article is long enough for now. Of course, I did not mention some subjects, but don’t worry ! I will keep on explaining my opinion about Colombia in other texts. At the end of the day, I encourage you to come and visit Colombia. France should inform more about its potentialities to attract more tourists to this awe-mazing (!!) South-American country that possesses the richest biodiversity on the planet.


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