What are cultural shocks for foreigners coming to Colombia?A big part of that, of course, depends on your own culture. People are rarely shocked by things they themselves find familiar. However, these were a few things *I* found shocking, from the perspective of a well-traveled, college-educated, blue-eyed gringo from the United States.
- Politeness. Colombians are _extremely_ polite. Americans mostly know 'latin culture' through stereotypes about hotheaded women and crazy narcos. There are plenty of hotheaded women and narcos in Colombia, but damn are they polite. After a few weeks in country you'll realize that everyone is saying 'with great pleasure' all the time. The shopkeeper, the restaurant owner, the guy selling single cigarettes on the street, 'con mucho gusto' is the default. You'll get used to it. Fast. Bring your best Miss Manners skills to Colombia and impress the locals.
- Industriousness. Colombia is a geographically and regionally fractured place, and not an easy place to make a living, but that's not for a lack of hard work and taking on a challenge. Every time I had some problem, even a weird first world problem, someone would find a way to fix it. Obscure Fuji camera battery charger not working? Well use this vaguely similar one and then tie it up with a rubber band, says the guy at the camera store. Phone won't work overseas? We'll jailbreak that thing in seconds. No Asian curry paste? This is kind of close and here's a local spice shop. After a while I started referring to this as 'paisa engineering' which is a term of great affection.
- Catholicism. I grew up in a pretty academic, secular family. The influence of the church as a quasi or secondary state institution in Colombia is striking for an American. And while much of the church is very reactionary and conservative, there are pockets of explicit revolutionary thinking as well. One of my best friends there referred to himself as 'The only left-handed atheist in Medellin' and even he would acknowledge the power of the church. It's an integral part of society there, both good and bad.
A few one liners. Everyone can dance. Reggaeton is still popular. Vallenato bands. Family ties. The weather.
For me it was (is) the difference in the subcultures within Colombia. A rollo (Bogota) and a paisa are races apart in how they think and act. The first is reserved but friendly, and very polite, to the point of being painfully correct. The second is your best friend as he tries to sell you something. Not even to get into the paisas...
If you a fluent Spanish speaker expect to have your Spanish corrected frequently. They use a lot of different words, not better or worse, but different. And they are very proud of their language and language skills.
Finally how diverse the country is in geography, from the mountains of Bogota to the seashore, it has everything.
After my time spent living in Colombia, I wrote something funny I still like to read again today on slideshare about some of Colombia's funny aspects for a foreigner.
This includes for example :
- Colombians are very happy and welcoming individuals
- Greetings can seem endless and of numerous forms
- Punctuality is not very a good friend of Colombia
- Bogotá isn't a warm tropical destination
- Extreme wealth differences
- Gorgeous women
The sophisticated, vibrant nature of the culture. It looks Spanish colonial but everywhere you turn there are signs of an international, 21st Century culture.
I also loved the "slums" in Medellin that have their own cable cars and escalators to get up the side of the mountain.