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.