25 January 2017
Interesting Tidbits About Colombian Culture
It’s difficult to describe the culture of an entire country. No one wants to be pigeonholed based on their nationality or the butt of some tired stereotype. This post about culture in Colombia isn’t meant to overgeneralize a population of very different people. Instead, I’m going to share my cultural observations based on living in Colombia as a foreigner.
One reason it’s challenging to paint Colombians with the same brush is because the country is so regionally separated. Thanks to the Andes Mountains, cultural traditions, accents and even physical features of Colombians are uniquely attributed to specific regions. Colombians from the coast are called Costeños, folks from Medellín are Paisas and people from Bogotá are Rolos. What region you call home is an important part of identity for Colombians, more so than what state you are from for people who live in the United States.
It’s not a secret that family ties are important in Latin American culture – including Colombian culture. Never the less, I was surprised at how tight my Colombian friends and coworkers actually are with their families. It’s normal for Colombians in their 20’s or even 30’s to live with their parents or other family members. I know lawyers, dentists, app designers and other professionals who have not moved out of their parents’ homes. It’s also normal for out-of-town relatives to crash for a month, where as in the Unites States, it’s more common for family to only visit for a week or two tops, then they got to hit the dusty trail.
According to the CIA, 90 percent of Colombians are Roman Catholic. Now, that doesn’t mean 90 percent of the country is heading off to Mass every Sunday, but you will encounter constant religious reminders while visiting or living in Colombia. For example, passengers on a bus might cross themselves (a religious hand movement that involves quickly touching one’s forehead, chest, shoulders then sometimes lips) when passing a cemetery. Many of the women on my soccer team cross themselves before a game and my landlord crosses me every month when I fork over rent money. It’s not just the constant crossing that make religion seem so significant in Colombia. The country observes more holidays than almost every nation of the world, most of which are religious. I’m not Catholic, but I enjoy the many three day weekends that celebrate saints.
Personal space doesn’t seem to exist in Colombia. It’s culturally acceptable to closely stand or sit next to strangers and acquaintances in Colombia. I have to constantly remind myself it is not considered rude here for a person in line to stand inches behind me, breathing down my neck, instead of leaving a gap of space between us. Even greetings and farewells in Colombia break the personal space bubble. A “hello” and “goodbye” amongst friends, acquaintances and sometimes even coworkers involve a kiss on the cheek. (Note: it’s more of two people quickly brushing their cheeks against each other and making a kissing noise, than a juicy wet one planted on the receiver’s cheek.)
Immersing yourself and absorbing Colombia’s interesting culture is just one of the many reasons to visit this country.
Have you lived in or traveled Colombia? Share your cultural observations in the comment section.
About the author:
Anneliese Delgado is an American writer living in Bogotá. Her mother is from the United States and her father is from Venezuela, giving her the unique opportunity to blend in on the streets of Colombia, while still viewing the country from the eyes of an outsider. When she’s not writing, she’s playing soccer, wandering around stores with no intention on buying anything and binge-watching Netflix. You can read more about her adventures on her blog at abroadincolombia.com.