Colombia is a bright and colourful melting pot of emotion and expression, and anyone who visits will surely experience this national vibrancy.
However, I would like to share with you some of the nuances of Colombian everyday life, perhaps that you may not see as a tourist. From Socialist supermarket stalkers, to hair monsters, to Mariachi bands.
The Curse of the Mariachi
Just when you think you are safe. As the lights go out on another day. As you are laying your head to rest. They will strike. The Mariachis.
It seems that whenever I decide to have an early night, I awaken the curse of the Mariachis. The first warning you will get, is the blast of the trumpet, and then you will know it has begun.
Colombians, well at least the ones in my housing scheme, will order a mariachi band for any special occasion. May it be a birth, a death, a wedding, an anniversary, a graduation, a new television, a successful bowel movement….well maybe I exaggerate with the last two, but you get the idea.
In fact, the most amusing Mariachi band that I have experienced, was from a husband to his wife. As by the nature of the songs and the lyrics, you can always tell the occasion. In this instance it was to plead for forgiveness for his infidelity. Now that seems all well and good to me, accept for the part where he decided to broadcast it to the whole neighbourhood. But who am I to judge the wisdom of a man who betrays his own family.
The Mariachis can strike anywhere up to midnight, and the songs last about 30 minutes.
Its a good judge of Colombian character that most Colombians (my wife included) jump up at the sound of the Mariachis to watch and dance, even if they were sleeping.
However, it goes against my ingrained
Brutishness Britishness. Having lived on a small island, with so many people, we do our best not to upset our neighbours. So herein lies the cultural difference, and I have learned to embrace the Mariachis over the years. There timing will never cease to amaze me though.
Latina Hair Monsters
They say the fibres are stronger than steel. That from 12 Latina women you can craft enough rope to climb Mount Kilimanjaro. Yes thats right folks, the hair of the Latina.
Where does this powerful material go when it leaves its host? Well, it forms into hair balls in every corner of your home.
You can find it rolling around in Colombian supermarkets like tumble weed. Its pretty versatile stuff.
Finding a hair in something is usually not a good sign. But in Colombia if you dont find at least one 50 cm black hair in your product, its a good indicator that its imported.
In conclusion, Latina women have very thick, black, beautiful hair. But it does get everywhere.
Seems pretty straightforward. Nothing unusual here. Any tourist with basic awareness can see that Colombians love their country.
But unless you happen to be listening to the Colombian radio channels, or watching the Colombian TV at 6am or 6pm everyday. You may have failed to notice they all stop to play the national anthem twice a day at these times.
Still find nothing unusual with that?… then you have the scourge of nationalism coursing through your veins my friend…I’m afraid there is nothing we can do for you.
Every shop seems to have more employees than customers. The hypermarkets and department stores are the worst offenders. Three or four staff lurking on every aisle, like gangs of yobs on street corners. They watch your every move, and cause general anti-social behaviour.
On the other hand, they can assist you with your shopping decisions, which is useful if you are indecisive, or have arrived at the supermarket with no clear purchasing plan.
The sporadically set up small encampments at the end of the shelving aisle to offer free food samples. This is very useful for keeping a toddler quiet during a shopping trip.
But the worst ones are the shop stalkers. Once they have you locked-on , it doesn’t matter how many times you decline their offers of help with a polite ‘gracias’, they will follow you until you leave that shop. Offering advice on products, showing you new products you have no interest in, making shop related small talk, and being a general nuisance.
If you are from the U.S you are probably used to this type of in your face shop assisting, but I like to be left alone to browse the products, and shop stalkers make me too nervous to complete my shopping.
On occasion I have been deterred from making my purchase by over zealous shop assistants. Colombians however seem to embrace this system. I have observed various Colombian consumers enter a shop and rather than look for the product themselves, immediately enlist the services of a nearby shop stalker to show them where it is.
As an added observation on shop assisting as we are on the subject. Grocery bag packers. I have no issue with bag packers parse. Its when there is a busy period and a shortage of bag packers. Then the cashier will just fire the groceries down the belt until a grocery mountain has been created. By which time (if no bag packer has arrived) he/she will then bag all the items causing a queue tail back. This is not really unique to Colombia though, I lived in the Netherlands for two years, and the Dutch also like to stand and watch their groceries pack themselves.
All-in-all, I appreciate all these socialist supermarkets and stores, employing a lot more people than they probably need. Its good for the communities, and the people. So I will tolerate the shop stalkers, and loitering assistants for the good of the people. Viva Colombia!
Well, that is a few of the everyday eccentricities that I have observed. All tongue in cheek of course, and its these little observations that I find so interesting when travelling. Watching the people, how they do things differently, and how they contrast with your own culture, or other cultures you have experienced.
In reality there is no right or wrong way to do things, only different ways. Its would be obvious to any seasoned traveller, but you should never try and change a different culture to fit your own ideas, you need to adapt to the new culture….but that wont stop me enjoying those differences, and maybe from time to time even poking a little fun at them. After all, you could fill a library with the peculiarities and eccentricities of British people, so who am I to judge. Viva Planet Earth!