Malcolm Douglas looks at some very Colombian peculiarities
When you’ve lived here for long enough to get sucked into the daily grind, you begin to notice certain quirky little habits from your fellow city dwellers. Some of these quirks are funny and endearing; others are downright inexplicable.
I am sure every culture has normal ways and means of doing things that seem strange to outsiders. I am just as sure that I am unaware of the endless quirks and funny habits that exist in my own culture. It takes the fresh pair of eyes of a newcomer to notice them. So after more than three years living in Bogota, I have compiled a list of things I’ve noticed Colombians do frequently enough to warrant noting. In no particular order, here is my ‘Top 3 Funny, Quirky things Colombians Do’:
Transport hover butt
I’ve heard a few explanations for this, but none of them make much sense. The prevailing rationale is that the person who just left the seat you’re about to sit in has left their body heat behind (and may even have planted a fart or two) and that this can cause the spread of germs. So, instead of sitting down immediately, you squeeze into the seat, tighten your quad muscles and lean against the seatback so that your ass hovers over the seat for a few seconds, allowing the previous occupant’s body heat to dissipate, thus saving you from contracting butt-SARS.
This would only make sense if no one wore pants on buses. But unless there is a special ‘pants optional’ bus that I’m not aware of, no matter how funky and disease-ridden people’s asses are, there are at least two layers of fabric (four if you count underwear) protecting your ass from the heat-activated butt germs on the seat.
Here’s a typical example: You’re at a bar and you meet a girl. You two hit it off and exchange phone numbers. You talk and text for a day or two, then arrange to meet for drinks or dinner. The day comes, and just to be sure nothing was lost in translation, you call her to make sure the date is still on. It is, and the two of you arrange to meet somewhere at, say, 8pm.
You get there when you’re supposed to. 8:10pm rolls around and nothing. 8:20pm comes and goes – and because no Latin American ever shows up for anything on time – you think she’s just running late. 8:30pm rolls around and you call, and she either doesn’t pick up or her phone is turned off. You send a text message. Nothing. At around 8:45pm, you finish off whatever you have in the glass in front of you and leave, feeling deflated for being stood up.
The next day you get a text from her saying something came up. Usually some-such excuse such as her mother was sick, her cat died, or one of her 187 cousins had an emergency.
This is all too common, and any expat who has lived here long enough has experienced it in one way or another. And not just from the opposite sex. Your friends will flake out on plans too.
I’m sorry to say it, but if Colombians are nothing else, they are flakey. Flaking out of dates or appointments, not showing up for work or class, or saying you’ll do something but then just not doing it because you don’t feel like it is quintessentially Colombian.
Never change out of the lowest gear when riding a bicycle
Seeing this always cracks me up. I’ve mentioned this little ditty to a few friends, but none of them buy it. This quirk seems to be something only I have noticed.
But if you don’t believe me, just go down to Ciclovia on any given Sunday and count the number of cyclists who are peddling their asses off but are just barely going fast enough to keep their balance.
The great irony of this is that Colombian cyclists are some of the best in the world and regularly compete at international events. Think of how well they would do if they learned to work the gears.
All that said – and despite the hazards of bus travel, ciclovia and dating- we’re all still here aren’t we? Ah Colombia, shine on you crazy diamond!
Malcolm Douglas is an English teacher who has been living in Colombia for three years. During this time, he has been rejected- sorry, flaked on- by several Colombians and spent a little too much time observing people on the Transmilenio.
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