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?
Like this? You’ll love Colombia a comedy of errors.
The lift thing! ‘It creeps me out’ is too strong a phrase but… 😀
I know, can’t stand it! You’re there in silence for 14 floors then greeted as the person leaves!! But once you get into the habit it seems rude just to walk out.
Don’t worry… you can always take refuge in Elephant & Castle if you have a sudden craving for empanadas 😉
Haha, thanks for the tip!
cool article, i laughed in some parts hahaha..
and i wanted to ask you, why some people in England see the kiss in the cheek when you say hi or goodbye, as a fake or luvvie behavior?
and you think to come back to Col? or you go forever?
Nice post, keep doing them, goodbye 😉
Thanks, no, just for a month!! I don’t know, perhaps in the past a kiss on the cheek was seen as improper or intimate (hence the how-do-you-do handshake/limp-hand-bob thing for women) and then the luvvies came along with their air kisses and… who knows…I like it though and would always kiss friends in England it’s just not so usual for brief meetings or new people…
How on earth did you get such a cheap flight from BA? Have they started flying from BOG?
Sadly not, that’s to Miami from London… and I have to get home with Iberia via Madrid. Yawn. Cheapest available and sadly not cheap 😦
Yes I am going back to London for three or four weeks, looked at the prices and found that the prices dropped dramatically a few days after the opening ceremony, 3,000,000 pesos is the case of Avianca/Iberia combo. I hate flying Iberia the seats a re no bigger than an internal European flight and as I am 6′ 4″ tall, it is pretty uncomfortable. Although it is the fastest journey to and from Blighty, I have done it in 14 hours
So with you. Can’t stand Iberia – just glad it is the journey out when I am all excited about England, then I get to return in comfort to Bogota… thank goodness!
LOL this made me laugh so much! I don’t get the amazeballs thing and I’m still here – so I’ll dance the reggetron with you xx
With you on the kissing thing, I’m a 6’2″ “Alpha male” Brit so was always a “firm handshake will do” kind of guy……….until I went to live in Italy for two years! I would travel back to the UK with Italian colleagues (mainly male) and the looks we would get when we met in the reception of the UK HQ and greeted each other with three kisses on the cheek…………priceless!
I dunno, your Colombia-bred quirks sound pretty endearing. Maybe they’ll rub off on some of your friends back home? I need to get back down to Colombia one of these days! Cartagena is one of my favorite cities I’ve ever visited!
I get what you mean, in a sense, about returning to you homeland and worrying you won’t fit in with the culture! Except in my case it’s a bit ironic in the context of your article… I’m a Colombian who has been living in Canada long enough that going back can be really awkward! I also worry about the language (my Spanish is tragic), how to dress and the differences in how you’re expected to behave around others. Your post really resonated with me, I loved it!
I hope you do have a good time during your visit home!
Flying to England Naked? Goshh I wish i could see that…flight hahahaha
Ya know, you should post your flying picture ( censored of course) and then send it to SoHo magazine, they will hire you and put it in the front page for sure!! 😉
Awww, I have to admit, this made me giggle a lot. I’ve only been away for eight months and as I was reading your list, started thinking, ‘Um, I do that. Is that not British?’ Hahaha. (The ‘Buenos/Buenas’ as you leave a lift; Kissing one cheek in greeting; Little Mexican expressions like ‘Aye!’ when I drop something/hurt myself instead of ‘Oops!/Ouch!’
I can’t wait to hear about when you go back. The reverse culture shock is going to be an interesting one to hear about. Please keep us updated. 🙂
haha this is brilliant. ive been trying to pre-warn some of my friends and family so they don’t think i’m a total freak when i get back to the UK. the aye thing is gonna particularly annoy them