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. Not just to learn the language and immerse in their culture but also travel and experience their way of life.
While some of the experiences were amusing to me, some were not. Ultimately, I embraced them to be part of experiencing Colombia.
Counting down the 11 things I have learned about Colombia that you should probably know about!
11) Tranquilo/ Tranquila – the Colombian way
I heard this word so frequently that I don’t think I got by a day in Colombia without hearing it! My Uber driver will say it when I searched my bag looking frantically for the wallet to pay him. I heard it when I was late for my appointments. Even when I accidentally stepped on someone’s foot and was apologising profusely, that person would tell me “tranquila” too.
So what is tranquila? Tranquilo/ tranquila (depending on your gender) 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…
10) Concept of time in Colombia
Let’s just say, the concept of time is like water, it’s fluid.
Buses, classes, appointments, you name it. That also means that by adapting to the culture, there is no need to feel bad about being late. Sometimes when you are late, the person you are meeting is even later. So, tranquila. 😉
9) Football culture in Colombia
Colombians are very passionate about their football and their national football team is their pride. It doesn’t hurt when their star player, James Rodríguez is an eye-candy!
Whenever they are playing matches against other countries, many Colombians wear their national jersey as though it is an unspoken uniform of the day.
People would gather in bars and restaurants and everyone’s eyes glued to the television cheering or booing away. Love the energy and spirits of these people!
8) Colombians are 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 greet each other, kiss on the right cheek and a hug follow by a “how are you”. It helps to remove all invisible defensive barriers, to be more honest and open to each other.
I love the warmth of Colombians!
7) Colombians have superb hospitality
Colombians are one of the most genuine and friendliest people I have ever met.
There are many amazing angels which made my experience in Colombia an incredible journey and looking back, I still hold fond memories of its people.
Here are just some examples of the people and their kind acts which I will always remember.
Nathalia accompanied me to a mobile phone repair shop that she recommended because she knew I needed help with the translation.
The boss of the shop found out that the previous repair shop I visited removed a component from my phone. He went to the store with me (which was at the other part of town) and demand that they return it back and also to do a proper job at fixing my screen.
The serendipity with Paola and Santiago was the best thing that happened during a weekend trip to Barichara.
Laura was a girl whom I met once during my first week in Colombia. All it took was a “hi, can you help us take a photo?” in the downtown of Bogota got our conversation started. She readily agreed to store my luggage at her place while I travelled to other parts of South America with my backpack.
Clara, my host lady whom I was staying with during my 4 months in Bucaramanga. She is one of the kindest and most accommodating women I have ever met. I returned to Bucaramanga after 3 months of travelling to visit some friends before I bid farewell to the continent and she gave me a place to stay. In fact, she even gave up her room for me to sleep in because she rented the room I used to occupy to a Mexican. The best part was, she even remembered my “queer” living habits!
Of course, there are still many more Colombians who made positive impacts towards my perspective of the country which I am grateful for.
6) Gestures are important!
If you want to give thanks, let someone feel appreciated, expressing them via thank you cards, flowers or a small gift would make their day.
5) Colombians can dance
Colombians can dance is simply an understatement. From salsa to merengue, bachata, reggaeton and many more! I could enjoy watching them move their bodies to the rhythm for hours, it’s in their blood!
When I gushed to them about their rhythmic moves, they would often get curious and ask how do we dance in Singapore. I told them sheepishly that we dance in a trashy way. It’s true!
Those dance lessons in school were confidence boosters as they enabled me to go on the dance floor with a little more confidence. Even though I would dance clumsily, I felt that I was not judged because everyone is just out there having a good time.
Having a good dance partner who was able to guide made dancing much more fun!
4) Colombia’s national drink, Aguardiente
It is a hard liquor made of distilled sugarcane. Normally I am not a big fan of hard liquor, especially when I had to drink it neat. However, I made an exception when it comes to Colombian’s national drink! Well, it made me hot, earning the nickname, Fire Water!
It can be added into Aguapanela (water mixed with unrefined whole cane sugar) or infused fruit tea to give it a punch and served hot. That is known as canelazo, a perfect drink for cold places such as Bogota and Boyaca to warm up the body.
3) There are earthquakes in Colombia
Colombia is one of the countries that sit along the fault line of the Pacific Ring of Fire. I encountered a couple of tremors when I was there. Those were pretty mild for that I hardly felt them. Well, I saw a chandelier moved and I slept through one.
I had experienced worse ones in Ecuador and Peru. So if you ever feel that the building is moving, you are probably right that it is an earthquake.
2) It’s a little tricky with the SIM card registration in Colombia
The Colombian government wanted to crack down stolen phones hence they came up with a policy. You have to register the phone’s IMEI number with the telco company when you purchase the SIM card.
It may seem easy, just press *#06# to retrieve the IMEI number, show it to the staff and get it registered. Apparently, it is not that easy.
For some “security reason”, you need to present the hard-copy of the proof of purchase to show that you’ve indeed bought your phone and it is not a stolen phone. But then, it is ridiculous. Why would you need to add to the things that you would pack for an overseas trip?
I was in Claro telco store with some friends and I happened to have my receipt in soft-copy when I bought it online but of course, they only can accept it in hard copy, which meant I had to get it printed out!
In some twist of event, somehow one of us managed to explain our situation to the staff in English. Miraculously, we were given a form to sign and our mobile phone got registered immediately!
I had no clue how did it all happen. No idea what was the form we signed as everything was in Spanish and my Spanish was near zero when I first landed in Colombia.
Some of my friends could not get their SIM card registered because the brands and/or models of their mobile phones were not compatible. To be honest, I have no idea how the telco works in Colombia. It is one of those times, I realised it was worth paying premium prices for brands like Apple and Samsung.
Up to this day, I still have zero ideas about how the telco in Colombia works and why registering a SIM card is an uphill task. All I knew was that I heaved a sigh of relief with a working SIM card in my mobile connected to the cellular network.
1) Colombians serenade with live music at 12mn
One night, I was woken up from my sleep at 12 midnight by some loud music. It was that one night that I slept early because I was nursing a cold.
I woke up extremely annoyed. “SHUT UP!” I shouted a few times from my room as if anyone could understand me but I was drowned by the loud music. How could people be so inconsiderate to blast their sound system in the middle of the night?
I climbed out of bed and opened my room door. I saw everyone including the dog and cat were fast asleep. Is this a dream? Am I hallucinating? Am I going crazy? Why does it seem that I the only one who can hear the loud music? I kept having these questions running through my mind, it felt so unreal.
I opened the main door of the house and traced the sound of the music. Over a green patch of grass, I saw 4 men where 3 of them were playing their instruments and 1 was serenading a couple who were dancing to the music looking very much in love as though the whole world disappeared with just the 2 of them and the music.
It was their dream and my complete nightmare!
At that moment, I felt like a Grinch. The Grinch who could not allow romance to be in the air nor their happiness to be shared and spread.
How dare they allow their love to be at the expense of other peoples beauty sleep? I stormed up to the security guard and questioned what was going on and how long it was going to last (I was praying hard in my heart that it is not going to last the entire night) in my very broken Spanish. He replied with a shrug and that the performance will carry on for the next 5 minutes.
I returned back to my room and the whole incident felt so surreal as I was the only one getting worked up by the incident.
The next morning, I spoke to a few Colombians, including my host lady and I came to learn that what I experienced was very common in Colombia. People would hire bands to serenade at midnights for birthdays, anniversaries or something worth celebrating. When that happens, the whole neighbourhood will just block out the music and continue sleeping.
This, by far came to be the most shocking cultural incident that I had ever experience.
With a better understanding, I promise that if I ever come across such encounters again, I will not be the Grinch. I will remain tranquila and just sleep on.
That concludes the 11 things I learnt about Colombia during my 4 months stay. It was no doubt an interesting experience
Do you have any interesting or shocking cultural experiences of Colombia or other countries to share? Comment in the comment box below.