First of all, I would like to clarify that although I am not American, I have lived there a significant amount of time allowing me to relate to American culture and its peculiarities. With this in mind, living in Colombia is very different in comparison, yet, I found myself adapting to the little day to day quirks within no time. The American habits I picked up or was used to seeing were things I soon had to learn to drop in order to blend in with the locals.
9 American Habits I Lost by Living in Colombia
Here are a few American habits I lost by living in Colombia which I think all Americans will if not must eventually lose in order to live happily in this country.
1. Being a germaphobe when it comes to food.
How about a little lechona for brunch?!
Americans are experts when it comes to cleanliness. The cafeteria ladies who served me my lunch in school in the U.S were dressed as if they were ready to treat Anthrax. Everything is sterile and squeaky clean. I’m not saying Colombians are dirty, mind you, quite the contrary, they just aren’t as much of clean freaks. You soon learn not to bat an eyelash when you see the lady in the kitchen restaurant making arepas without gloves. Street food is just left out unprotected, and you know you’ve adapted when you’re eating it all after having handled money all day and after hanging on to your dear life inside public transportation. Hand sanitizer? That’s for wussies.
2. Suing or getting sued.
In the states, I always heard phrases like, “I’m going to sue you,” or “This and that company is getting sued”. It’s as if everyone is suing something, someone, for whatever they can get. Spilled your McDonalds hot coffee? Sue their a**! As a result, people think twice before getting in someone’s face, interacting with someone’s kid, or serving them a hot coffee. In Colombia, there’s no constant fear of lawsuits and people are free to interact, respond and take matters is their own hands. One tinto por favor!
3. Wanting your personal space.
Showing you our personal space
In my American elementary school, we were taught to respect the personal space of every individual and that our interactions should be kept within a certain distance. We were then made to extend our arms out against our sides and swing them forward and backward to create an arm length 360 shield around us. We called this pizza space
, our own personal space which was not to be invaded. Now, ever stand in line in Colombia, go on a Colombian family vacation
or take a bus? Your pizza space quickly vanishes into thin air.
4. For everything else, there’s Mastercard.
One time I was at Starbucks in L.A to redeem a few gift cards but didn’t have a single cent on me. After having used my gift cards, I had a leftover balance of 32 cents which I was able to pay with my credit card! You can totally forget this concept when living Colombia, and probably in the rest of the world as a matter of fact.
Many shops will not accept credit card payments above a certain amount and some flat out do not have the equipment to process plastic. Always carry cash because in this country you can’t pay your $1.00 salpicon
with Visa or Mastercard.
5. Alternative solutions can always be found.
I always thought that a ‘no’ meant ‘no’, red would always be red, and that generally things are the way they are and cannot be modified. Not in Colombia. Maybe this is also why it is known as the land of Magic Realism. There is no fixed answer to a question and everything can be adapted. Want higher speed internet but only have $20,000 ($8)? Father in law wants satellite TV installed in his apartment for free? No problem! Deals (mostly under the table) can always be arranged where both parties walk away happy. A ‘no’ can easily be turned to a ‘let’s see what we can do’ after a bit of small talk and a bit of negotiating.
6. Going by the book.
Not everything is black or white. There’s also 50 shades of gray.
I guess this goes in line with #5 and can be a very controversial topic, but as Colombians become creative in finding alternative solutions, they also bend the rules and walk a fine line between legality. Soon enough you find yourself doing it too. Maybe it also has to do with the fact that you observe citizens, law enforcers, and politicians slide in between the rules as they see fit for their personal wellbeing. After a while, you might find yourself running a few red lights at 2 a.m. on an empty street, slipping a bribe under your driver’s license for driving without your permit or pulling some strings to avoid a sticky situation. Although it’s seemingly immoral, it’s a common reality on all levels of the ladder and I must note that as much as people hate it, many partake.
7. Walk out of the house in pjs and slippers.
Credit to GloZell
I used to go grocery shopping in my pj’s which consisted in one of my parents’ old 80s oversized and decolored shirts, boxers and slippers. So sexy! Americans like to joke
that they dress like hobos when headed to Walmart and put more of an effort in their appearance when headed to Target. Here, I wouldn’t be caught dead in hair curlers in the local fruit shop.
Whether it’s your Colombian equivalent of Target or Walmart, suit up!
8. Being carefree.
I used to live in the quiet suburbs of Miami, where everything was safe, and if you forgot your phone in a restaurant, you could easily come back later and to find that the staff had kept it for you. Maybe it’s because I’ve always lived in safe areas that I’ve had to learn to become aware of my surroundings, but in Bogotá, regardless of how fancy your neighborhood is, you should always be on alert
(Read my article: How I Got Used to the Insecurity of Bogota
). No talking on the phone in the street (especially on corners and close to the road), personal belongings should always be extra close to your person, no pulling out your wallet in open spaces, etc. People son vivos
and will take advantage if the occasion presents itself. If you forget your phone in a restaurant, don’t be surprised if it’s not there on your return.
9. Learn to negotiate.
Everything is negotiable and prices can always change. It’s important to stay patient without haggling or being aggressive. When living in Colombia, the key to communication is politeness, whether you mean it or not, keeping your cool will give you an upper hand when negotiating and asking for a discount. It’s not America where you can just cause a scene to customer service and expect them to roll out the red carpet. But with a little smile and a wink, you are much more likely to get what you want. And if that doesn’t work, don’t be afraid to ask for a little ñapita (A little free something they throw in just because).
What do you think? Are there any habits you picked up or lost by living in Colombia? I’d love to hear them!
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