My name is Vicki and I’m a conformist. That’s not a state of affairs I’m particularly proud of, it just happens to be true.
I have a natural aversion to rocking the boat, an aversion which manifests itself in everything – accent, fashion, manner, food. It’s probably why I fit in so well in Colombian society – an entity which hardly lends itself to smashing through the norm.
Accent is a good example. I’ve lived in numerous places with numerous different accents yet each time I’ve felt my own slide into place. I couldn’t even tell you what my original accent sounds like these days – I guess it’s now the neutral English of a Brit abroad, splattered with the obligatory Colombianisms.
I wear the clothes of a Bogotá girl, or I did, which is the regulation tight jeans, boots and leather jacket and I am pleasant to people, even if they behave outrageously (Keep me waiting an hour? No problem. Let me down completely? No problem) I couldn’t even tell you a single food I dislike, which makes me a distinctly uncomplicated dinner party guest.
It may surprise you to learn that I possess somewhat radical political views, mostly because I refuse to write about them. The few times I’ve been compelled to write a controversial Banana Skin Flip Flops I’ve decided against publishing it, telling myself that writing it was enough to “get it out of my system” I generally only discuss politics with people I trust to be detached. The moment I sense an exploratory debate has become a battle of wills, I bow gracefully away.
I realised my conformity in Cuba, when a friend commented on how I’d lost my British sharpness, my dryness, my sarcasm. She was right – I’ve forgotten how to banter, how to truly tease, how to gently mock. Even my visa official, whilst rubber stamping my two-year extension, asked me why I was so nervous. “Because I’m not from here,” I replied, even though we both knew that wasn’t really true. My Britishness is a mere technicality these days. I can’t remember the last time I sent a Facebook message that didn’t contain a smiley face.
Inevitably, though, I snapped. I snapped in a shoe shop, in El Salvador of all places, where for some reason I’d decided to try a pair of three-inch high heels, maybe four-inches. The sort of shoe I wore in England but would never dare to wear in Bogotá. Suddenly I thought of all the sacrifices I’ve made for my Colombian life. All the times I’ve smiled sweetly at “Que pena,” or “Lo que pasó es que,” or “No alcanzo,” (all indications that you are about to be let down) particularly now I am back in the city’s dating game, where repeat cancellations are all part of the fun.
“Oh screw it,” I thought. I didn’t just buy the high heels I was wearing. I bought two other pairs too and swore I would wear my new heels every time I went out in Bogotá. A friend once told me make-up was a mask, designed to put distance between yourself and others. Well, my new shoes are my mask – a gentle reminder to stop me conforming. I love Colombia and I love this city like no other, but I love my own culture too. I’m proud of my values. I don’t want to lose them.
Of course, it’s ridiculous. The first time I wore my ‘skyscrapers’ to a pub in the Zona T, I went with a friend. He thinks being around me is a bit like being around a Great Dane anyway and, sure enough, the first time I stood up a man said “Shit” very audibly. I’ve since trotted up the 85 looking not unlike a giraffe and last week a man pretended to mistake me for a supermodel, which was great considering that besides being 6’4” in heels, I am also 30 and very fond of Dunkin Donuts.
More importantly, the psychology is working. Last week, a Colombian invited me for coffee, in the usual vague way. Normally I would be equally vague in reply, but I happened to be wearing the tallest of my new high heels. “Okay,” I said. “But I am very busy. When were you thinking?” He looked shocked before reaching for his Blackberry. “Erm, maybe Wednesday?” he said. “Okay,” I replied. “But you’ll have to confirm on Tuesday.” I watched as he carefully wrote “Confirm Victoria coffee,” on the Tuesday of his phone diary. I honestly think it was the first time he’d used it.
Needless to say I am still waiting for that coffee confirmation, nevermind the coffee, but I feel strangely good about it. I’ve learned in the past that breaking Bogotá’s strict dating code is a recipe for disaster but, equally, I’m worried what I’ll become if I keep conforming – in every area of my life here. So I’m going to keep my high heels and hopefully a bit of my Britishness and if I seem complicated, well, at least I’ll still have that famous sense of humour. It’s probably the best part of me anyway.
Like this? You’ll love Colombia a comedy of errors.
Excellent piece as always. One other aspect that I have found is that as an extranjero in Bogotá I am not allowed to cancel or postpone dates/appointments. I have had people sulk for two weeks because i cancelled dates at the last minute. Although it is perfectly acceptable for others to cancel on me at short notice, leaving me playing wistfully with a rapidly emptying beer bottle at a bar. I have learnt, never to turn up early these days, just in case the “Que Pena” telephone call is made.
Keep up the good work. Having seen you near Calle 57, you must be an imposing sight to most Colombian males in your new 3″ heels.
Ha, you saw me on the 57? Next time come and say hello. Don’t worry about my angry face, that’s actually just my standard in-the-street expression 🙂
How about a bit of that Dunkirk spirit , go all the way and get some 6 inch heels . That should scare anyone into not cancelling at the last minute . Always pick a place where you can have a cold beer and watch the people going by , you never know your luck and you might meet someone better . With your new 6″ talcones , go for a walk down the center of CLL 116 and wait for all the car crashes . Have a great day .
Haha, yesterday I followed your advice. I was supposed to meet someone in the Zona T at 5pm so I thought: “That will be at least 6pm,” so, while I arrived on time (British) I decided to go shopping, bought myself a beautiful new coat, called at 6pm to be told: “Oh I’m in Cedritos – aka 60 blocks away – can we meet here instead?” I was wearing my new heels so needless to say I declined, but I remain delighted with my new coat! I think the trick is not to take your dating life too seriously. It is a big city after all 🙂
lol Yes! Keep up the Brit!!!
Absolutely love this and resonated with it *so* much.
For the record, I only started wearing heels here too because I’ve been a little self-conscious of my height (but at 5’8″ I guess I’m nowhere near you).
But I do find it strange to hold on to some of my Britishness sometimes. All of my friends here are either Mexican or American. My accent’s a mess and I’m picking up so many different habits from both Mexico and the US that I wonder whether people will recognise me when I return to the UK for a while.
Hi Vicky, great article as always. Your tale is exactly the opposite to us when we relocated to London from Bogota. It is important to adapt to the local culture and live like the locals (go to the pub, understand the British sense of humour and social rules). There is no point on longing for home, weather or food. However, there is always a part of you that needs to remain true to your roots and origins. That’s what makes us special in a foreign land… here goes the smiley face 😉 Looking forward to your next post
Great post Vicky, I enjoyed reading it! I can related to the conformism “phenomenon” I am a Colombian living abroad… One thing that I learned though… We cannot fully forget who we are, and where we come from 🙂
I have many friends from abroad, and most of them agree that the exciting thing about Colombia is the fact that they can indulge in guilty pleasures they could otherwise could not (if they were in their own countries). It is amazing how we welcome people from other places, even thinking about the word “foreigner” sounds harsh. Nevertheless there are some things that we cannot mask or betray that are natural to us. “Pelamos el cobre” really often. As easygoing as you may be, showing up on time is definitely a matter of respecting others and their time. But let’s face it, we Colombians have in excuses what we lack in skill in many fields. It’s always great to have a plan B, don’t be afraid to doublebook your days and make both nearby. As you know by know, chances are people are going to be late or might not show up at all, so you can extend your coffee with a friend. I like your blog a lot, and would definitely like to meet you.
Great post! Having left Bogota at age 20 I never really got much into the dating scene there, but I totally get you in the “dating game”. The high heels were definitely a huge assertiveness booster! But I also think that it has to do with age and experiences. Being 32 myself, I feel that for the first time in my life I’m comfortable enough in my own skin, and most importantly, confident enough to know what I want and to not just settle for “meh, good enough”. 🙂
Definitely! And high heels sort the men from the boys!