Inside Out Culture Clashes

Society in my dear city of Barranquilla, Colombia is closed­-minded, slow-moving, one might argue ignorant.

Everything is slow and inefficient.

Everyone is always late, and complains about everyone being late, and how it makes everything inefficient yet no one tries to change.

Image is everything, to a fault. From operating organizational bodies to relationships to individuals it doesn’t matter how things are, it’s how they appear. You didn’t have fun if it’s not on Facebook. Actual project results are irrelevant to the written, specifically­-formatted report that proves that a project took place.

Young people live with and depend on their parents for far too long. It shows.

There’s never money for responsibilities or long­term plans but there is always money for trago.

No one leaves or makes tangible plans to leave.

Communication is totally blunt or totally indirect at all the wrong times. Let’s say something but mean the opposite, or not say what we need to say, unless it’s something that does NOT need to be said. Then we’ll say it.

Everything is emotional. Everything. Emotions, admissions, declarations, outbursts, apologies. Emotional chaos.

Machismo. Machismo. Machismo. Intolerance. Machismo.

Relationships are fuzzy and infidel.

Unceasing catcalls. Tss tssss linda. Reina. Preciosa. Hermosa. On the street or anywhere. I want two photocopies and you ask if I’ll give you my beautiful eyes. No. Likewise, my relationship status has nothing to do with the context of a business conversation. Noneya. And stop staring. Stop. Staring.

All of this in the heat and I’m trying not to be such a gringa.

But I’m staying and I speculate my own country from afar. Maybe we should dance more and work less. Maybe we can greet everyone in the room with a kiss on the cheek and always start conversations with pleasantries. Maybe we can be nicer to outsiders. Maybe we can slow down, relax and stop sterilizing our senses silly. Maybe patriotism could be more about culture ­- festivals, food, music, customs ­- and less about our ability to bully and blast other countries to bits.

Recently as a team we constructively highlighted one another’s strengths and weaknesses. Good passes, tackles need work, communicate more, make good choices on the field. Et cetera. My turn. More than a trend, it was blatantly obvious that everyone noticed the same thing: “Bri, be more patient. Don’t get frustrated. It shows on the field. Take a deep breath and be patient with us. Relax, Bri.”

Ah. Yes. Yes. It’s just ­ well. Yes. Tienen razón. It’s absolutely unfair and firstworldedly arrogant for me to lose my sh** because things are functioning the Colombian way in a 100% Colombian domain. It’s not what I’m used to and maybe I don’t think it’s the right way but it’s not my place to huff and reprimand and make my exasperation obvious. Not when everyone notices everything I do (because I can fit in here to the 99th percentile but I’m still always the gringa and always different.) I will always have a distinct perspective because I put myself here. I choose to spend nearly all of my free time with costeños rather than integrate with other expats. If I’m impatient I’m an asshole because I asked for this.

Instead, I can show things. I can conduct myself in a positive, constructive way. I can firmly but subtly propose my ideas and see how they play out in Colombian. I can relax because being the most stressed­-out person in Barranquilla is not really the superlative I’m going for. My job is inherently demanding and sometimes calls for more than I have but what does that have to do with my post­-5pm or my weekends? Nothing. Worlds apart.

I realize that I’m responsible and organized and have high expectations of others because I am. It’s not the American in me, it’s the Brighid and that doesn’t change with the landscape under my toes. Because it seems to fit more naturally into U.S. culture doesn’t mean I can’t learn to manage it here and do good. Work or play, do good.

So what does the above Barranquilla-bashing have to do with my obsessive and controlling nature that from time to time reflects in frustrated outbursts like “OH MY GOD COSTEÑOS CAN WE BE QUIET FOR THIRTY SECONDS??” Or, perhaps, passive aggressive mumbling about manifest destiny and proper sidewalk etiquette?
In spite of imperfections, I’m here and I’m not leaving for a while. I let that speak for itself.
Cultural, personal, societal. Nothing is black and white on the coast.
It’s brilliantly green, red and yellow.

Immersion is a fickle friend.