The other day I was half an hour late to meet a Colombian friend of mine, for no reason other than I was being slow and disorganised. Not only was I late, I also blamed both the traffic and public transport.
2. Double Parking
I have developed a habit, a decidedly Colombian habit, of scheduling appointments at the same time on the basis that a) Someone will surely cancel and b) If they don’t, I assume I am some kind of wizard capable of attending two meetings at the same time. How do you think that works out for me?
The other day I was leaving the office in the company of a male colleague, who was walking slightly behind me. When we got to the door, without even realising it, I stood and waited for him to open it for me. Naturally, he did so – giving no thought at all to the feminists below him, spinning furiously in their graves.
4. Fake Smiles
I was in a Bogotá café famed for its outrageously bad service (I have no idea why I still go there, given that I have walked out in the past) Anyway, I was forced to call, politely, to a passing waitress before I could order a couple of coffees. She stopped in her tracks and took a very obvious deep breath before turning to face me. Afterwards I commented on her fake smile to my friend, who laughed and said: “But you did exactly the same fake smile back.”
We have spoken a lot about hygiene. When I am with British friends I excuse my exacerbated preoccupation with the topic with excuses like: “Sorry, I am just going to go and wash my hands, you know I have that OCD thing…” even though not only do I think it is completely normal to wash your hands every time you arrive somewhere, I also think it is fine to use napkins, plastic ‘grease’ gloves and full cutlery, even for cake and pizza.
I am not particularly religious and, like the majority of my countrymen, I was neither born nor raised a Catholic. But the other day I was on the bus near my house when we passed a mangled taxi that had crashed and flipped onto its roof. My neighbour and I looked at each other in horror and crossed ourselves simultaneously. I felt weird the whole day.
I was in a market when I found two jumpers in a discount bin (Colombian or not, I remain a bit of a scruff) They were marked as having been 75,000 pesos each but were now under the label “Everything 40,000.” I took both of them and asked the girl how much it would be if I bought two. “Well, the thing is… they are already discounted,” she said. “Okay,” I replied patiently. “But how much?” I wasn’t even embarrassed when I was forced to hand over the 80,000.
Remember how much I laughed about the cuteness of Colombian dating? Well I have to confess I am now the worst for sending smileys or messages that say: “Hola,” and the worst part of all is that I still have a pre-paid phone, so those smileys cost me as much money as if I was sending something vaguely intelligent.
9. Free Love
There are some people in this city – foreign and Colombian – that I love as much as if they were my own family. I would do anything for them and when I hang up the phone and say “I love you,” I mean it. But I have also fallen into the “te quiero” trap which means I am just as likely to say “I love you,” to people for whom the sole extent of our friendship is a fondness for the same Bogotá bars. Nothing wrong with free love, but it is very un-British.
10. Blurred Lines
In the beginning I struggled with the huge gulf between amiga (friend) and novia (girlfriend) but nowadays I don’t even balk when male friends say to me: “Well, I would only call her my novia if I thought I was going to marry her,” even though the relationship they have with their girlfriend is exactly that. And while I may laugh about turning up late, crossing myself and asking for discounts, this is the one that worries me the most. A British friend said to me recently: “Be careful what you tolerate, you have standards for a reason,” and even though I was not her biggest fan, it reminded me of Margaret Thatcher’s advice: “Watch your thoughts for they become words. Watch your words for they become actions. Watch your actions for they become habits. Watch your habits, for they become your character. And watch your character, for it becomes your destiny.”
Like this? You’ll love Colombia a comedy of errors.