Sh** Colombians Say, Part 5: No words, no problems.

A series of posts dedicated to the intricacies of cultural Spanish expressions. Some may be specific to Latin American Spanish, the Andean region, Colombia, in and around Bogotá, small towns or even the kids at my school. They’ve caught my interest and maybe even found their way into my vocabulary.

Because body language isn’t universal…

Head nod

When beckoning someone to “come here!”, Colombians execute a short, deep head nod. It’s like a quick jerk of chin to chest used by kids and adults alike, with a certain degree of eye contact and sometimes a slow, carefully timed blink. We were actually briefed on this in orientation, but I didn’t really buy it until my kids were nodding at me from across the room. I tried it out tentatively at first and I’m still delighted every time it works. I get a kid’s attention, nod quick and they come to me! It took a while but I’m over my head-nod stage fright and readily pull it with waiters, bartenders and anyone whose attention I need.


Nose Wrinkle

When Colombians don’t understand something, they do this little wrinkle-crinkle with their noses. Sometimes it’s super crinkly and sometimes it’s just a quick twitch to indicate “…what?” This is useful yet extremely frustrating. There’s nothing worse than explaining something to one of my students or trying to communicate with someone, and I think we’re really having a breakthrough, totally on the same page, when there goes the face with the nose wrinkle. “Questions? No? Ok, great!…no….oh. Oh. That again. From the top…”

I’ve started doing this involuntarily, even when I’m on the phone or reading something I don’t quite gather. Probably because I’m confused at least 72 times a day.

Anger and/or agression is not an integral part of the nose wrinkle.


Lip Pointing

Literally, this is pointing with pursed lips as opposed to using other appendages. Up, down, left, right, near, far – it can all be indicated with one’s lips. We Estado Unidenses might point at something with our chin or head instead of our hands, but we definitely do not use our lips to motion at something to the left or right. I find it to be the least practical and natural gesture, but also the most entertaining to mimic.

Kate Bailey: Amateur Lip-Pointer