L’oeil surpris (🇬🇧)

In the wake of the last article that listed some facts that you should know about Colombia, today I am going to explain to you various curious things that surprised me when I arrived in Colombia’s capital city Bogotá in July and that still keep surprising me.

So, after my 8-month experience, let me present you 8 things that you should not get afraid of if you come here to visit:

  1. The real Colombian life
  • Every single time you will go out in the streets, you will hear some voices or speakers screaming. Don’t be frightened! They are just sellers that recorded their message so that they don´t have to repeat it all day long. And yes, in Colombia, you will find a lot of independent sellers who can offer you miscellaneous things in the streets. How do they get people’s attention? By screaming what type of product that they sell!
  • Moreover, something that you need to have in mind while in Bogota is the organization of the city on the map. No street has a name. They are organized thanks to a number. As for the streets, named « calles», this number is increasing from the South to the North of the city, from 1 to approximately 200. Perpendicularly to the calles, there are the « carreras » (« avenues » in Colombian). To each one of them, a number has been assigned to each one of them, also growing but this time from the East to the West. This is why a Colombian taxi driver won’t understand the direction if you don’t tell him the exact crossroads (for example carrera 7th with the calle28).
  • In those streets, you will probably catch a glimpse of the people’s habits. It is not unusual to observe very large queues at the bank. Indeed, on some days, the cash machines are just taken to task by many people who need to get out their wage as soon as they receive it. Furthermore, the security guards’ best accessory is not an arm, but a dog. Yes, a dog, you have read it correctly. They are drug-sniffing dogs that can be from different breeds. They accompany the security men in from of malls, important building complexes, museums. Just as the machines with which the guards check your bags before entering a mall in France, a dog checks your bag in front of a mall by sniffing it. Why not?
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Carrera 7th in Bogotá
  1. Particular social habits
  • Let’s put yourself in the shoes of a Colombian student. At school, you will notice numerous girls or boys selling personal products. From chocolate bars to candies, including notebooks, highlighters, and above all desserts that they have cooked at home. Personally, when I first saw this kind of business, I thought that the girl had brought her Tupperware filled with muffins for snacks. It turned out that she was actually selling them to her comrades between classes.
  • Now, how about a dinner in a restaurant? But, oh surprise! Every couple sat next to each other, not in front of their partner. It may be to feel even closer to their loved one. How weird! In those same restaurants, before paying the bill, the waiter will ask you: “¿Quiere incluir el servicio?”(“Do you want to include the service?”). Sorry? What service? Well, in Colombia, the word “servicio” means the “propina”. In other words, the “tip”.
  • In addition to that, watch out before going to the toilets! It is well-known that you shouldn’t throw the toilet paper in the bowl. There is always a bin next to it so that you can throw the paper after having used it. And it is similar in various other Latin-American countries. It may be because of the bad waste water drainage system that the region has.
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Restaurant of the Hostal Casu, La Candelaria
  1. The Colombian vocabulary
  • What everyone knows is the use of “ustedes”, the third plural pronoun, instead of “vosotros” in Latin-American countries. In the South of Colombia as in Argentina o Uruguay, some people also use the “vos”, which is a translation for “you”, a mix between “” y “usted”, that comes with its own distinct conjugation. You should get used to it beforehand.
  • Moreover, I can swear it to you that you feel very ashamed if you misunderstand one of their expressions. Let me help you! To start softly, I have to mention the famous “marica”. In every other Latin-American country, “marica” refers to a gay person. In Colombia, people use it as “parcero(a)”, “vecino(a)”, to address to a friend, an acquaintance. Don’t be surprised if a seller in the street calls you in that way.
  • As for the girls, don’t you worry, everyone is not in love with you. You must wonder why I warn you. Indeed, the Latin-Americans are warm-blooded people who are welcoming. A waiter or a seller can say “mi reina” (my queen), “preciosa” (sweetheart), “mi princesa” (princess) to every girl he meets in the day, but he or she will not be flirting with you, it is their normal way to welcome you. The same sellers always try to catch their customers’ attention by screaming “A la orden” all day long. It is the equivalent for “Can I help you?”.
  • A pretty funny situation might happen if you get afraid when a Colombian will tell you that he is sick and has “gripa”. Don’t worry! Every Colombian calls “gripa” each disease that they can contract. “Gripa” doesn’t mean “the flu”, but also a simple cold or a nasopharyngitis.
  • Last but not least, in supermarkets or restaurants, Colombian people ask the waiters if they can “regarlarle” something. “Regalar” is the translation for “to offer”. However, workers in Colombia aren’t used to offer their products to their customers. The verb is used with the meaning of “to bring”.
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Colombians in Medellín, Antioquia
  1. Their food habits
  • As Occidentals, we may have some clichés about Latin American. And the weird flavours and ingredients represent one of them. Let me reveal to you that we are not entirely wrong. For instance, the Bogotans are used to dip a piece of cheese in their hot chocolate and savour it with a yuca bread or a small brioche. It will surprise your taste buds, unless you have already tried to mix your chewy cheese in a sweet hot drink. You will learn a lot everyday about Andean traditions by coming to Bogotá!
  • Another far-fetched tradition in the Andes and in almost every region of Colombia is the “sopa” that you will have to eat at any meal. They call it soup, but in fact, it is more like a broth, that can contain pieces of potatoes, carrot, yuca, some herbs and depending on where you are in Colombia, different types of meat (chicken, fish, beef…). Another point is that, every time you will go to a restaurant in Colombia, it will offer you distinct soups in its menu. Nevertheless, I can promise that it will always taste the same.
  • Latin America is the fruit paradise… and this is a true cliché. You will find all sorts of fruits in the local markets. They are colourful, they are juicy, they are tasty! I told you: we are speaking about the fruit paradise. What is more is that you will be surprised to discover some fruits that you had never heard about before, with weird shapes and unpronounceable names. Come try them all! It is even easier to get some thanks to the food stalls that you can find in every street.
  • Finally, don’t look sternly at the plates if they seem over-filled. It is not an error, the Colombians are truly generous. Whereas in France the waiter will serve you an almost empty plate, the Colombian waiter will not quibble about the quantities. You will never be hungry after having eaten your meal! An important point is that the Colombian plates are always provided with a big piece of meat and various starches (like rice AND potatoes). Don’t hesitate to try “patacones” (cooked and fried slices of banana). You can taste all this mixture in the most Colombian plate of all times: the “bandeja paisa”. From Antioquia (Medellin’s region), it was orginally prepared for workers who had only one moment to eat and gather energy in the whole working day. This is the reason why the plate contains sausage, “chicharrón” (grilled pork fat), avocado, egg, arepa, rice, “patacon”, ground meat.
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A traditional bandeja paisa in Guatapé, Antioquia
  1. The transportation
  • As far as the bus network is concerned, let me tell you about the « Transmilenio». It is the Bogotan bus rapid transit system that was opened to the public in 2000, hence its name of « transmilenial ». Because the city lacks a metro system -which the authorities keep affirming that they have been building one for years- every single Colombian uses the bus to move around in the capital. In the rush hour, it is overcrowded and a ride in the bus turns into a rollercoaster. I swear to you that anyone will feel just as if they had bought a pass to Disneyland.
  • In general, the Colombians are drive recklessly. And this is really bad news if you are afraid of speed or dangerous driving. It just seems that they don´t respect the Driver´s code and ever more, that they didn´t learn any. In that case, let me inform you about the existence of « party buses », called « chivas». What is crazy about them is that every Colombian or every stranger who visited Colombia has already lived that experience! For example, you can pay some 15 euros to go on a chivafor 1 hour heading to the famous restaurant Andrés, carne de res that is in Chía, a town nearby the capital. It is a tradition to dance to the sound of Colombian music and to drink a lot of « guaro » (the Colombian vodka) during the ride.
  • Also, I should mention the time when I called a taxi to go back to my house at night and this one wouldn’t stop at any traffic light, because there was no one in the streets… What stood out was the price of the taxis of Uber here. They are so cheap! For instance, if you need to go to a place that is 30-minute away from where you are, you will pay in average around 5-7 euros. What a deal compared to the prices in Paris!
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A painted chiva in Guatapé, Antioquia
  1. The weather
  • When my close friends and family learnt about my choice to go to Colombia for an exchange year, they all -all, without any exception- told me: “Wow! You are going to tan all year long, have hot weather just like in the Caribbean.” Think again! I am studying in Bogotá, the capital city. The weather is more like 15-18ºC during the day and around 10ºC at night. The truth is that Colombia possesses various climates all around its territory. The almost only region in which the temperature is not tropical is in the Andes (region of Cundinamarca). There is, in fact, no season. In Bogotá, the year is divided in two different periods: the “windy” weather between June and November; and the “rainy” weather between December and May. Always take an umbrella and sunglasses with you!
  • As an understandable consequence, the system of evacuation of the rain water is not well-developed in Bogotá. After a storm, one can observe the streets filled up with water, as if a real flood had happened.
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Panorama of the capital from the San Francisco hike
  1. The music
  • It is something inherent to the Colombians. Music is what flows in their veins, it is impregnated in their everyday life, it is their motivation for the work day, it is how they express their feelings and thanks to what they feel at home in a foreign place. Vallenato, cumbia, salsa, champeta, currulao, reggaetón: Colombia is known as “the land of a thousand rhythms”.
  • Let me precise you something that surprised me. As a fan of reggaetón, I thought that all Latin-American people liked this type of music. But the truth is that they do have really mixed feelings about this musical genre that was born in their continent. Meanwhile you are shopping in a commercial area, all what you will listen to are the dynamic rhythms of the reggaetón, just as in the popular student parties. However popular it can be to some, it remains, on the other hand, hated by numerous others. The latter don’t hesitate to enhance its machoistic lyrics and behaviours that it produces in society -loads of men will consider women to be appealing in parties, just because they will dance to the reggaetón music.

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  1. The typical Colombian behaviour
  • To end up with this article, I had to emphasize the generousness of the Colombian people. Of course, I had been told that the Latin-Americans prove to be a lot warmer and opened to the unknown than the French people. Nonetheless, it keeps surprising me positively every time that I experience it. What an enjoyable and nice behaviour!
  • Lastly, I couldn’t finish my list without mentioning the love that they have for their country. May it be in politics, sports or culture, the Colombians will ALWAYS support their country. For instance, despite the defeat in the 2018 Football FIFA World Cup, they never felt ashamed of their team. The Colombians never belittle their country and take the advantage of every moment to let people know. Their patriotic feeling is really characteristic of their identity. Even though their life is not always, their love for their colours -yellow, blue and red- will NEVER fade.
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The Colombian flag during a lightning spectacle in Zipaquirá, Cundinamarca

Marina

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