Assimilation Nation

I’ve come to terms with the fact that it takes an hour to go anywhere in Bogotá and the line at Éxito is going to move twice as slowly as it needs to. Sometimes I complain audibly about the cold. I say things like chevere, juiciosa and como así?. I share my snacks and lay the formalities on thicker than the rolos themselves. However, 24 years of Americanizing is a lot to undo andI’ve realized over time that there are some parts of Colombian culture and lifestyle that I just can’t bring myself to adopt or fully accept.

Phone culture:


In the states, we have a general awareness of cell phone courtesy. It’s considered rude to answer your phone at dinner, for example, during a meeting, or while you’re being helped at a store. Colombians answer the phone at all costs. Why? “If someone is calling, they need to talk to me,” explained one friend. Well, yea, that’s the idea, but during a work meeting? During church? At dinner with another friend? I can’t do it and I won’t do it. The funny thing is, if you don’t pick up on the first ring, people call again. And again. And again. In the U.S., if it’s during the typical workday and not business-related, we would assume someone is busy with work. At night, maybe they’re out on a date or asleep. Maybe there is a reason they aren’t answering. Probably they can call you back later.


Listo. Bueno. Vale, vale. Hasta luego. Listo. Chao. Sí, cuidate mi amor. Listo. Chao. It’s like the “No, you hang up first!” game at the end of every call. Both ends of the conversation will say goodbye seven times in as many words as possible. Translating that to English is like us saying, “Ok. Bye. Ok. Great. Talk to you later. Sure, sure. Sounds good. Yea. Bye. Yes, take care. Ok great. Bye.” I’m always the rude one who says “listo, chao!” and hangs up, because cell phone minutes ain’t free and real life minutes ain’t either. Courtesy can be succinct after all.


Third person references:

People here will often refer to you in the third person, to your face. It’s quite confusing. It’s usually in a social context where the person is being respectful, like a salesperson or other staff. The doorman/custodian/miracle worker at our school recently came to my class after I asked him to unlock the library for me. The translation of what he said was, “The teacher wants the library open?” I gave him the old nose wrinkle and, “What teacher?” Nose wrinkle right back, “…You?”

Edith will often say things to me like “Brighid wants to eat lunch now or later?” or “Brighid is cold?” People talk about themselves in the third person too, like “One must do this thing today.” Ugh, passive tenses and indirectness.


Walking pace.

I am a patient person. Believe it or not, I am a patient person. I cannot, however, get used to the walking pace in this country. It’s not just a little annoyance, it makes me outright angry on the verge of violence. I may not be in a rush to get somewhere, but I still don’t see why we can’t pick up the pace in the bus station. Or the mall. Or the TransMilenio stairs. Sidewalks. Hallways. ONE FOOT IN FRONT OF THE OTHER, PEOPLE. If you really feel inclined to be a snail, at least don’t walk six wide with your friends, spouse, children and other entourage – two groups of three is just as easy. Allow a passing lane, and if you choose to pass, please do it in a way that you are not crashing directly into me. The crazy, congested streets are bad enough; it does not need to extend to walkways.


Health & Safety.

Maybe our U.S. society is over-sterilized, but there’s a line to be drawn. Just like toddlers with machetes in Guatemala, I still cringe when I see babies and little kids sitting on someone’s lap or jumping around as they please in a moving car. Another common sight in Tabio and beyond is an adult riding a bicycle or motorbike with a baby in one arm. It’s not getting any more normal.

There’s also the diet. Not to say that Colombians are unhealthy or don’t know how to eat properly, but typical meals are heavy on potatoes, plantains, white rice and yucca. Salads are often covered in mayonnaise, or 90% avocado (not that avocado-overdose is a personal concern), juice and coffee are inundated with sugar, and junk food is readily available everywhere. There’s less focus on the fruits and vegetables that are abundant, diverse and cheap. I’ve gotten used to the eating schedule – normal breakfast, huge lunch, small snack for dinner but the food can be monotonous and bland at times.



Latino stereotype, much? They’re late. Not everyone, not all the time, but timeliness isn’t valued here like our 10-minutes-early culture. While we all know I’m not the most punctual person ever, I can’t get myself to arrive as late as everyone else. I just can’t. I will gladly prepare myself to read or people watch as I wait 15…20…60 minutes, though. Again, with the patience.