Two weeks ago I pressed a button on my computer keypad and three million – yes, three million – pesos disappeared from my current account. In return, I have a ticket home to England and will be disappearing to my home country for one whole month.
I’ve already started compiling a list of things I miss – and can’t wait to do, eat or say – but mixed in with my excitement, particularly at seeing my home country in its Olympic finery, are some nerves. Because I think I might have accidentally turned into a Colombian.
This week I went to watch England play football in the company of around 15 Englishmen. There were more English people in one place than I have seen for more than two years. Afterwards we decamped to another pub and, to celebrate, I ate a basket of fish and chips. It was great.
Except I couldn’t help feeling a little strange. I didn’t know the people very well and, at first, I thought perhaps a few were being a little cold. Perhaps even a little rude. It took a full two hours for me to realise the problem was not them, but me. I seem to have lost my British sense of humour.
Colombians may tease and joke with the best of them, but they always have a wicked grin or a flash in their generally dark eyes. They rarely use those familiar clipped, smile-free comments nor the sharp yet snide criticisms that need a few seconds to take effect.
This apparently means I’m going back to England without any armour, naked if you will. Will I manage banter? Will I be able to deflect and defend against subtle teasing? Will I be able to enjoy the jokes for what they really are – affection and acceptance that reveal themselves without the need for words?
This realisation forced me to look at other Colombianisms I have unknowingly absorbed – all of which will no doubt contribute to my cultural nakedness in my own bloody country…
1) I apparently can’t get out of a lift without saying “Good Morning/Evening/Afternoon” to whatever strangers I’ve left behind me. I really hope this doesn’t translate to me freely making eye contact with strangers on the Tube. I fear I may die.
2) I can’t put any form of handbag on the floor. You already know the fault for this lies with both ridiculous Colombian superstitions and my own anxieties about ‘tempting fate’ but still, I know it’s going to be an issue.
3) I flirt with everyone, from the man on reception to the woman who brings the coffees. This jolly but fake and overly intimate niceness might be the universally accepted way to get things done in Colombia, but in England we have another word for it. And it’s not a very nice word.
4) I have absorbed Colombian expressions and facial gestures – from ‘Ai’ and ‘Uf’ to that comical nose wrinkling that asks another person if they are okay. If I exhibit any of this behaviour in England the strange looks will be the least of my worries.
5) I use endearments all the time. Okay, I’ve always been in the “honey/darlin” way of communicating and never had a problem with physical contact, but I am looking forward to the moment I see my best friends and can declare: “Hello my beautiful friends, how are you? Thanks be to God that all is well with you, that makes me so happy and I hope you have a happy day.”
6) On that subject, I also feel physically uncomfortable if I have to greet anyone, or say goodbye, without kissing them on the cheek. Some people in England view this as fake or ‘luvvie’ behaviour, which means I am going to have to restrain myself. All the time.
7) Fashion is going to be a problem. I have somehow morphed into a typical Colombian woman, squeezed into impossibly tight blue jeans, tucked into boots with a black leather jacket slung around my shoulders. Considering English women haven’t worn jeans and knee-high boots out to dance since the day Posh married Becks, I am definitely going to look weird.
8) I dance funny. A combination of salsa, bachata and, amusingly, reggaeton has unlocked my hips (and my previously unchartered grinding ability) and it seems there is no going back. I can’t wait to start ‘hipping it up’ to the familiar strains of Snow Patrol and the Arctic Monkeys.
9) I feel anxious if I can’t see at least three different carbohydrates on my plate and I don’t know how my mother is going to react if I started requesting rice alongside my roast beef and Yorkshires. The absence of my daily juice kick is also going to be interesting.
10) Ever since I saw the word ‘amazeballs’ on a friend’s facebook, I’ve been harbouring a secret fear that I don’t speak the language any more. If English is evolving this fast I may be at a loss to understand it, which is far worse than accidentally saying “gracias” or “como?” in a crowded place.
Mmmm. Anyone know if British Airways gives refunds?