Colombians on Colombian Culture
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Colombian culture is something that one learns with time and experience. Though I have been here for 13 years I am still just a visitor and really do not feel it is my place to pass culture calls. Plus my judgments of culture differences would be based on my American upbringing. Is it really fair to place my values on others? My wife is Colombian. But she believes it best to tell the tales from the lips of others, though she frequently does not agree with them. Therefore the following stories, while witnessed by my wife and I, are all culture comments by Colombians about Colombians.
Colombians are often noted by others as being polite people in some areas. But can they take things too far? The other day I rode the SITP, or blue bus as many call it. Two elderly ladies stood on the curb at the bus stop waiting. Leaning on their canes they hailed down the vehicle in plenty of time for the driver to stop. However the man seemingly purposely drove far past where they were standing. The ladies hustled as fast as they could to reach the door and board. Before they were fully aboard the man took off again causing the ladies to hold on to a nearby rail to keep from falling. They sat in the back while the man at the wheel seemed to be putting the peddle to the metal over the pot filled road. The elderly women, along with the rest of us, frequently flew off our chairs towards the ceiling then came crashing down back in the seat. Well before their intended departure point the ladies braved the jostling of the bus and hanging on to the top rail just at the top of their reach they pushed the stop button. There was no gradual slow down and stop. Instead a very abrupt stop had everyone flying forward out of the seats. Those standing, including the ladies, held on tight. Before using their canes to navigate their way down the steep steps each of the senior women yelled at the driver in the front, "Gracias señor."
I thought that in almost any other country letters of complaint would be written to the bus company. Instead I envisioned this driver going home at night thinking he is such a great person because so many people tell him thank you. When I relayed the story to the Colombian relatives of my wife they just told me that saying thank you for a poor job is the Colombian culture so you do not hurt anyone's feelings.
On another occasion we were in line to board one of the buses. I noticed that the first person in line just ducked under the turnstile while the person behind them tried to screen the action. The next two ladies in line compressed against each other so that they both went through with only one paying. The next lady questioned the bus driver about what the others did in cheating the system. He just shrugged his shoulders and said, "It is Colombian culture."
Our block had a neighborhood meeting to talk about replacing one of the guards who many believe was not doing his job correctly. But other topics related to the guards work came up. One was that a neighbor parked a very large truck, both day and night, in front of the guard booth making it difficult to see some of the houses. This is despite the fact that each home has room to park two cars in the driveway and there is suppose to be no parking on the street. The owner of the truck countered with, "This is Colombia and it is what everyone does."
Another topic concerned what the guards were to do with a neighbor who has held many parties in their front yard with loud music (heard more than a block away) playing until 2 A.M. Now came the words from the owner of that house. "We are Colombian. Colombians enjoy their music. And it makes my sons happy."
Some may think that the police would stop or shut down such an event. But as many neighbors attested to they called the police and nothing happened.
Playing loud music all hours of the day is considered Colombian culture many have told me. Indeed, it is not unusual to visit some neighborhoods and hear five different homes permeating the area with five different types of music. One more than on occasion at towns outside of Bogotá I have seen groups of people on horses ride the streets with one person leading a horse saddled with large speakers blasting music. Some of the riders appear so inebriated that I am amazed they can stay on the horse. And I felt sorry for the horse with the speakers deteriorating his hearing.
The other day I spoke with a Colombian about workers. I said, "It seems that if a Colombian has the opportunity to make $1 honestly or 99 cents by cheating you."
Before I could finish my thought the person I was speaking with said in an excited voice. "Oh, the 99 cents every time. It is our culture."
Since I look so very gringo I find it best to just pretend I do not understand Spanish. People are more free to say things around me figuring I do not understand. One of my problems has been getting workers to do a job correctly. Instead they seem to do as little as possible but make it look done. The other day I heard one worker say to another. "Americans, they always want everything done correctly the first time. We are Colombian. That does not happen."
Later on a friend explained to me that the action is normal. The idea is to quote a very low price to get the job then to make more money coming back to fix what they did't do correctly the first time.
We overheard a conversation of people talking about money donated to help the poor. One person pointed out research showing 50% of the money disappeared through corruption. Another said, "Yes, but they did help some people."
The attitude does not apply just the those in the country. A Colombian living in Australia told me of something similar. In the city they live a company announced and threw a party for Colombian Independence Day. The advertisement mentioned what they would be doing at the celebration. Upon arriving the prices were extremely high for food and drinks. There were very limited places to sit. Many of the announced activities did not happen. And to top it all off over 100 people got sick from the food and vomited in the bathroom. Some in attendance took to social media to comment on what happened. They were chastised on line by many other Colombians with many stating something like, "Why are you complaining, they did give us a party."
These types of comments by Colombians about their culture makes my wife mad. On more than one occasion she has told one of her fellow countrymen, "I am Colombian and I am not like that." Indeed there are many who are more respectful of others and the law. But what really gets my wife is that while people in other countries pick out good things to say is their culture, Colombians seem to pick out bad things that defines them.
Thank you for reading. Wishing everyone a great day.