Bogotá: Things are about to get complicated

I was in Carulla, in the ten items or less queue, behind a man with a large trolley full of goods. And you know the sort of man I mean. Smart jacket, smug face, air of self-entitlement. To the credit of the woman behind the till, she managed to overcome centuries of societal placement and stratification and tell him, very politely, that he was in the wrong place.

“There are three of us,” he snapped, pointing to his owl-faced teenage boys. “And besides, I don’t want to wait.”

If you could have seen my face, you would have wanted to paint it. I was furious. I was shaking with anger. Of course, I am from a country famous for its faith in queues and rules and red lights and litter bins but, still, I was tired and it was late and I was only buying milk. But I said nothing. It was only when the man left, that I finally spoke.

“That is disgusting,” I said. And then, inexplicably (I am sure I watch too many films) I turned to the rest of the queue.

“That is our problem,” I said, still shaking.

“That is how corruption begins. It’s the little things.

“When you think the rules are for other people.”

“You’re right,” the woman behind me said kindly, but everyone else just stared at their baskets, hoping that the crazy blonde lady would just shut up and buy her milk.

A few days later I was walking up the Septima behind two Colombian soldiers in uniform, when an idiot drove past us and went out of his way to splash us. The soldiers swore and brushed off their jackets, but I had reached my limit and, you know, God smiles on us sometimes. When I turned around, the driver had been forced to stop at the lights. I didn’t even think.

“Hey YOU!” I shouted furiously running up to the car and banging on the window.

“GRACIAS! You just RUINED my day!”

The guy in the car slumped in his seat, terrified and looked everywhere but at the crazy woman, stammering that it was not his fault. I didn’t care. If British people cannot bear people pushing in queues then bogotanos cannot bear being shouted at. They cannot handle fuss, they cannot accept public scenes. They need everything wrapped in a veneer of politeness, genuine or otherwise, simply to be able to function. That guy drenched me but I am telling you, I ruined his day tenfold. He is probably still furious about it now.

My friends are the same, they dislike anything that comes close to a breach of decorum and would have been shocked by my behaviour that day (to be honest, since the robbery, I am friends again with my vulnerability and frightened, once again, of confrontation) but that is just it. Our society warns us never to complain. It insists we see no evil, speak no evil, hear no evil. Calling someone complicated in English makes them interesting, calling them complicada here is an insult. We are all too afraid to fight the good fight.

Of course, I am as bogotana as anyone. That is probably what drew me here. My days in newspapers, on the other hand, brought out the best in me and, of course, it is much easier to stand up for the little guy when you have a newspaper behind you and are surrounded by far braver, passionate, eccentric oddballs who, for the most part, still think they can change the world.

But who do you think they sent when someone was complaining a bit too much? And who do you think spent half her time in reception listening to the moaners and whingers, politely filling pages of my notebook with junk I knew we would never print? And who do you think sat and listened to BNP leader Nick Griffin for an hour, not once contradicting his anti-woman, anti-gay, anti-everyone diatribe but instead thinking: “Well, at least the readers will know who he really is.”

I was a bogotana before I set foot in this city and sometimes I think the more passive I become, the worse I am for Bogotá because I really believe that “all that is necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men [and women] to do nothing,” [thank you Mr Burke] and, you know, it is funny, because I am actually quite persuasive. I spent six years encouraging people to broadcast their deepest secrets without signing a single cheque. The best journalists in the world are British (sorry, but it’s true and not always positive) and the best work at our national newspapers and where do they begin? Out in the provinces, relying on their ability to seem nice and kind and caring and passionate and just. The sort of people you trust, because they are apparently on your side.

Of course, they then get bribed to London where their skills become obselete with huge budgets and access to private detectives, but that is not the point. The point is I was one of them and I learned that art of gentle, apparently harmless persuasion and now I think: “What crap.” Sometimes the only way to change anything is to make a bloody great ruckus.

We all do it in Bogotá, all of us. When something is not going our way, we become dangerously polite and reasonable and we convince the other person that they want to help us and then we get what we want, whether it is good for society or otherwise. The trouble is that what is good for the individual is not always good for the pack and looking after ourselves and our nearest and dearest usually just means we avoid facing our greater evils, such as corruption, and crime.

I was in full-on bogotana mode when I went to report my robbery and, unfortunately, the police were in bogotano mode too and did everything they could to prevent me reporting it (“Can you call this number? Can you do it online? Can you go to the south of the city? Can you report it somewhere else?) until I lost my temper (Again! What is happening to me?) and said: “Look, this is going to happen and it is going to happen now. If not, I am going to take the names of everyone here and…”

The policeman was annoyed, obviously and took his revenge by quoting me verbatim (“Any other comments?” he said. “People are disgusting,” I muttered, which of course turned up on the official report) But I felt good. I felt strong and powerful and brave, for once. Every hero I have ever had has been unafraid to go against the grain, to be unpopular, to insist upon change, even Ghandi – supposedly more passive than any of us – wasn’t passive at all. Nothing will ever change all the while we nod politely, lower our heads and wish it would all go away.

I promise not to turn into a shrieking nut, I still believe influence is more valuable than power and I know how to pick my battles. But I am telling you, if you take a trolley in front of me again, in the ten items or less queue, you are going to wish you had never been born.

Like this? You’ll love Colombia a comedy of errors.

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78 Comments

  1. Luis Orozco

    Wow! When I saw the last line about saying “que asco la gente!” i thought it was figuratively speaking. I am happy to see it written in the ‘denuncio’ (I’m a lawyer, and a native Spanish speaker but what a disgusting word).
    Anyways, I understand your frustration. I am not from Bogota, and luckily in my 10 years or so living in there I was robbed just once (I know people who’s a recurrent fact of their life), but two things come to my mind reading your entry: 1) first, i politiely disagree with that of a reaction bogotana… I am not bogotano, I am from Cartagena, and I have found people like the one described by you looking at their supermarket baskets at the bodegas in NY or that crazy mix called Miami. I think that flaring temper against that horrible kind of people with the sense of entitlement and also with the attitude of laisser fair laisser passe gets the worse out of opinionating people (i say it as a compliment).
    Again, I’m sorry for your robbery— and the other chain of unfortunate incidents.

      1. Luis Orozco

        I don’t believe in staying quiet— I am convinced that when I day my tomb is gonna read “This is how he could shut up!”. I believe in the power of one: I believe that the guy you yelled at after he drenched you is going to think about you next time it rains in Bogota, and God knows it rains almost daily over there and that could cause a replicating effect. Or just call me an optimist with a hell of a temper.

      2. bananaskinflipflops

        Eeeeee…. “Optimists with tempers”… maybe that is the solution!!! Maybe idealists and optimists are good, kind, warm people who don’t get angry enough? I don’t know. We have to be persuasive, we have to make people see they are wrong (and I do dare to use that word “wrong”) rather than making them defensive but equally, maybe you need a bit of a temper on you to try it…

      1. Jose

        He says that because the “change” you seek is technically called exercising the rule of law. Meaning there is punishment for not following the rules society has established. If you think this is bad… then you can always look to something worst, like Venezuela or Salvador, Ivory coast or most probably any of the remaining 159 countries out of 189 whose economic ranking is below Colombia. (http://data.worldbank.org/data-catalog/GDP-ranking-table). If you don’t like mixing economics and the “path to change”, then you would surely agree that a Country’s maturity can be measured by its ability establish rules and follow them. like Sweden, Switzerland or Singapore. They all start with S, maybe we should start the change by changing the name to Solombia? then again… Salvador is worst off…

  2. Pablo Mejía

    La corrupción es el problema más grande que tenemos en Colombia y el incidente en Carulla es la descripción perfecta de la raíz del problema. Tal como lo dices, son las pequeñas cosas. La cultura del atajo. La ley es para los demás. Infortunadamente, cuando tratamos de hacer valer nuestros derechos o los derechos colectivos sobre los particulares, la respuesta es siempre la misma que la de las personas de la fila… y quedamos temblando de rabia e impotencia… ¿Que hacer para lograr un cambio?

    1. bananaskinflipflops

      I don’t know. I have never believed that being angry, being rude or shouting at anyone solves anything. But I wonder if there is a balance and, instead of staring at our feet, we insisted, politely and firmly but we INSISTED – without backing down – then perhaps we might be able to make people feel bad enough about their behaviour to think twice next time. I am going to try and do that more: “Excuse me Sir, I appreciate you are in a hurry, but we are ALL in a hurry and maybe one day, you too will want to enjoy the benefits of the 10 items or less queue…”

      Am I turning into my grandmother? 🙂

  3. Courtenay Strickland

    Oh my goodness… after I got robbed, I also had yelling “incidents” too. I twice lost it on people who put their cars into reverse without looking when I was behind them with my baby in a stroller. Somehow the robbery type incidents do seem to decrease one’s tolerance for BS and that’s not always a bad thing. Although I think the effect is probably temporary, for better or worse.

  4. Courtenay Strickland

    Also, I totally agree with you re: corruption – that is how it starts. And as for the effects of the robbery, I had no similar experience when my purse was stolen on Miami Beach. In that incident, no weapon was involved. For me, the being-threatened-with-a-weapon bit was what touched something core.

    1. bananaskinflipflops

      Exactly, they are only little things but they say something about your attitude. I wouldn’t take a trolley into that queue because I would feel guilty about all of the other people waiting. Which means I think about them and I don’t want to be an asshole. AND so many people are like that – the majority – so why are we letting the assholes win?

  5. drawing33

    lovely to see the police report is the old typewriter style (was it a manual one?)…in other countries technology is to do things faster and more efficient….in this country is just to avoid the hassle, sufficiently enough to keep the job….

  6. Lala

    Oh I can totally relate to this blog!! Yesterday we were taking the kids to daycare when a lady in front of us had no problem peeling an orange and throwing the peel on the street, and to add insult to injury the trash bin was right in front of her. I immediately said: “Excuse me!” – she turned to me right away, I continued: “you just threw trash on the ground, please pick it up!, there’s a trash can next to you!” She looked at me, looked at the peel and walked away. Oh, I was livid! I started yelling “You are so dirty and your house must be the same way!”…. she ran away. I think she was embarrased and didn’t want to be yelled at in front of all the people passing by.

  7. bananaskinflipflops

    I was a bit nervous about publishing this blog because AGAIN I don’t like to rock the boat, but it feels quite good 🙂 Like standing up for something that is right. It is all very well to want a quiet/harmonious life but, really, I am not sure that is helpful for anyone else… you just need to pick your battles because if you harp on all the time, people stop listening. Human nature etc…

  8. Miguel

    I cannot agree more with you: we need to rock the boat A LOT MORE to make change happen in Colombia. Passiveness is one thing we need to stand against, because that silent complicity is the kind of complacency that brought about widespread corruption, massive pervasiveness of drug money, the culture of ‘no sea sapo, no se meta’ and it is just wrong. It probably takes a long, tall blonde to make people stand up and be counted, and so be it.

  9. susan

    One of my hero’s would say: “Change happens by listening and then starting a dialogue with the people who are doing something you don‟t believe is right.” – Jane Goodall
    However I’m not sure if that is what you want when splashed by a car 😉

  10. Juan

    Lol, i find this “article” very funny, seems like you don’t have a clue where you’re living, it’s Colombia! The land of long lines, authentications, mistrust, violence and party! Laws are meant to be broken and being “good” means “no ser vivo”! I’m sorry you had those horrible experiences, cause i love my city, but not it’s inhabitants……

  11. Karol Dołęga Zakrzewski

    About a week ago, amid one of those terrible rains that fall everyday from 1-2pm to 4pm, I waited timelessly on Carrera 7ma and 71 for an empty cab.

    After what was probably 20-30 minutes, under my umbrella and with the lower half of my suit completely soaked, I finally was able to stop one. It just so happened to pull over about 8-10 meters away from me because there was a big rain pond just in front.

    So I head towards it happily… when suddenly a fancy suited guy comes out of the blue and hops on. I shout at him, and he just looks back and says “Ah, que pena con usted…”. Then closes the door and off he goes with my cab, my hope, and what little remains of my love for Bogota.

      1. Karol Dołęga Zakrzewski

        Oh, I fight more than I should. But on this occasion it just happened too fast, and I was not able to do so. Suited man runs from the Venados building straight into the cab and off he goes, smiling….

        Yesterday night I took a cab from the airport to my house. I do that quite often, so I know exactly how much it should cost. So I immediately realized that the taxi driver had the meter rigged, and on top of that, once I ask him how much I owe him, he wants to add the surcharges twice.

        So I smiled, made sure I had all the things with me, got off the cab and said: “You know what my friend, I know you hace the meter rigged, and additionally I know that you are overcharging me for about 10,000 pesos. So I will not pay you anything”. And I left the car to my door building.

        He comes running and shouting and says: “Hey! You! wait! Well…. pay me what you think is fair”.

        To what I answer: “Definitely not, for if I do so, you will continue ripping foreigners with no consequence. And If you stay here I will call the police”. After which I sheltered behind the guard of my building.

        10 minutes later I called the taxi company (Radio Taxi Aeropuerto) to denounce him. Everything goes well until I mention that I did not pay him anything. So the guy from the call center says, “So….you did not pay?? Ahh, that is great, then why are you complaining??”

        WTF!!!!!

      2. bananaskinflipflops

        Hahahahahaha. Omigod, I just laughed out loud. That is it. I was once in a cab where the guy clearly had the metre rigged. It was a two-stop from the airport thing. We dropped my friend off first but the driver refused to take me to my house saying he didn’t like my attitude (I kept asking him about the metre) Fine I said – take 5,000, I am going to call another taxi. You should have seen his face. Furious. Bent taxi drivers push my buttons more than anyone, but it is a shame, I have had some incredibly good and honest ones. The bastards give them all a bad name.

      3. bananaskinflipflops

        P.s Imagine if you had just jumped in with him. If the Carulla thing happens again I am just going to wheel the man’s trolley to another queue myself. Sometimes the more outrageous you are, the more you get away with, hee hee, she says – the girl who was too polite to speak up at the time! 🙂

  12. Juan Camilo Gomez (@JuanKg)

    I totally agree with you. I’m Colombian but it’s irritating and even frustating. Every now and then I find the courage to stand up and tell someone to pick up their trash, to stand in the right queu, but it’s common to hear”it’s not your business” or “so what are you gonna do about it” while they walk up to you about to hit you.
    Still, I try to keep doing it because sometimes you will be the person who will detonate other people’s frutration and they will support you.
    Perhaps if you would have said something in Carulla the lady behind you would have felt the courage to speak up and support you.
    Anyway, I hope you keep “shouting” at misbehaved Bogotanos, hopefully they’ll learn 😉

  13. Patricia Morales

    Sadly, our culture of not minding our neighboor is present in the mayority of our people. When you have had the chance of being educated by educated people (your parents), or if you have lived in a civilized country, you are able to see all these problems in people´s behavior. The question is if were´re going to be mad all the time about these lack of respect or are we going to try to educate them.

  14. Javier

    I should be congratulating you (actually, I do) but believe me: internalizing every offense is not healthy. Next time the moron on the line makes such an argument, take a deep breath. And a picture of the idiot in question and post it online 🙂

    Several years ago there was a campaign (I would say in Cali, but I’m not 100% sure) called the “tontobobo” or something to that tune. The idea was to ridicule that kind of people into submission. Someone should do that using internet.

    The thing at the police station: cheers for it.

  15. lablogotana

    You go girl!
    Yesterday a woman strode purposefully straight past the queue of 20 or so people waiting for the loo and tried to nip into a stall just as it was being vacated. I strode just as purposefully but twice as fast (long legs and rage propelled me) and managed to get there first. I should explain that it was my turn – I was at the head of the queue. I pointed said queue out to her, and she said “My, but there’s so many people!” “Yes ma’am, and they’re all waiting politely in the QUEUE” then everyone else started muttering too and she slinked away to the back. Ha!

    It is definitely the little things, from school uniform (not that a uniform is necessary but at least enforce it if you set one) to the politicians. If they see us sneaking onto the backs of buses, of course they’re going to sneak funds into their pockets! They see that we don’t care about ourselves so why should they?

    I’m 100% on board with this. Can we get badges? Quick – someone design a logo! 😀

    1. bananaskinflipflops

      Re: LOGOs “Proud to be complicated” … I am going to put them on the facebook page… maybe we should start a movement against the little things that lead to the big things…

      Telling someone not to jump the queue, telling someone not to splash us, telling someone to pick up their litter… those things may make us “complicated” but they also make us RIGHT!

      Logos on the facebook page: #ProudToBeComplicated

  16. Viviana Silva

    Many lessons in all those unpleasant experiences. I hope you don’t lost your peace of mind. You can disagree with someone behaviours without feeling anger. The attachment to be right is the cause of anger in many people. No one can make you feel anything without your consent. I like the book don’t believe everything you think, it helps me to clear these views. Be happy!!!

  17. Victor

    Those are the little things that are hard to get used to in Colombia. And it is pretty much everywhere you go. My mom used to do that! and when we were growing up we always heard “no de papaya y aproveche cualquier papayaso”. To me, those are the little things that Antanas Mockus was trying to change with his mimes on the streets.
    Victor
    ps. by the way, I have read many of your stories about Colombia and I really enjoyed. It makes me miss it sometimes.

  18. David A. V. (@ExpandThatMind)

    I wish you could LIKE comments or something on here… There are some rly good ones.
    I think if you go around “picking battles” with random people, like educating them, you’re going to be having a rough time BUT in the long run, in a way, you’ll be helping a society, a city, to evolve their behaviour and to change that shitty mindset that you can easily find in Bogotá sometimes; there are tons of arrogant and spoiled people, actual grown ups that act like imbecile teenagers in many dif situations… But also, I think the root of most of the problems in Bogotá is the entire system and culture, and its history of corruption and mediocrity. It’s hard to expect something from a country where the most repetitive and dull soap operas and reality shows are the most viewed things on national tv. A country that has an embedded culture of narcotrafficking, money, coke, and what I’d call ‘modern prostitution’. Thankfully and hopefully, things will change, and it’s going to be very interesting to see the result, the counterculture that will be born from all this mess, all the art, all the ideas, and all the good people that are going be coming. And it’s not happening only in Bogotá, it is happening around this globe. This evolution of the mind.

  19. David

    Tienes toda la razón… todos nos quejamos, odiamos las distintas situaciones que se presentan… como la corrupción… PERO NUNCA HACEMOS NADA! nos quejamos, no hacemos nada… Y yo quiero hacer parte del grupo de los que hacen algo, de los que saben que las cosas no están bien y que esta en nuestras manos poder cambiar las cosas…

  20. ncthomeexp

    Only if I could speak Spanish a bit better for it to roll of my tongue would I speak up more often on my frustrations with the population and the ignorance of some. I feel your frustrations and Ill enjoy my 6 remaining days in the US before heading back to BOG. Keep posting and sharing your experiences.

  21. casilva

    You are damn right in making a ruckus. I commend and applaud you! Take it from this gringo-colombiano who left Colombia a while back when things were much more violent than they are now. I was traveling in Italy with friends, and a middle aged man with an Eastern European accent decided to throw his garbage on the floor. Two of the girls in our group (Americans), politely pointed out that he had dropped his rubbish and asked him to pick it up. He replied that “this is Italy and who gives a care”. At this point I felt a surge of rage racing up my spine, stood in front of him and looking at him in the eyes said “pick it up”! At that point, that a-hole represented everything I despised about entitled buffoons in Bogota and elsewhere for that matter. We mobbed him. He picked up his crap and left. So I say talk back and be loud. To heck with politeness. Be assertive when you are right. It’s preferable to be rude than to be meek. Life’s too short to be bullied.

  22. Harry S.

    I am with you 100%! I believe in consequences. Doing nothing just encourages these people. People that step on others rights should be ridiculed, how else will they learn to curb their behavior. I have lived this way most of my life, speaking out when others where timid. Mind you it did not always work out in my favor but I have no regrets. Life is short so make your stand. Ive got your back Vicky.

  23. Juana

    If every single one of us bogotanos politely but firmly stood up in the face of wrongful behavior I believe people would slowly but surely impunity would cease to be the comforting blanket under which so many behaviors are perpetuated. I do stand up and I do confront people, and in the course of doing so I have encountered anything from verbal, loud confrontation to heartfelt embarrasment and correction of said behavior. Through trial and error I have discovered that if I use:”senor (o senora), lo invito a que por favor respete la fila”, and frase my confrontation as an invitation to proper behavior in a calm, friendly voice, people are less put on the spot and tend to react better.

    Then sometimes I just feel like just swinging a bat to their heads too…. ;o)

    1. bananaskinflipflops

      Impunity, you are so right my love, impunity. That is the problem. If you think there are no consequences of course, you will do whatever you like. And I agree with you 100%. The trick is to be influential, rather than powerful. Be firm and polite. Being rude may make someone change their behaviour once, but making them realise for themselves that what they are doing is wrong will endure for a lot longer… good luck out there people!

  24. drawing33

    Sorry for the visionaries, I do not have the expectancy of a “new” Colombia, at least not in the way it is implied here. Hoping for a change in the Colombians attitude is as hopeful as a change in the Swiss attitude, or American attitude, or Nepalese attitude. Can anyone give me a good sample of a country that actually did change their attitude? (I’m sure the people that disagree with me are going now through Wikipedia, trying to proof me wrong…take your time). The only way a monkey change (and by monkey I mean a monkey) is when an error in their DNA structure happily occurred in the manner of “evolution”. So, is there light at the end of the tunnel? sure, we just need to accept it as part of our folklore, and take the necessary measures to adapt to the daily surprises the people within offers. Our issue here is that we want Colombia to be as reliable as another reliable country, in the way that we think the grass is greener at the other side of the fence. So, lets not wave those ”flags of change” (which politicians truly love) at least until more lovely foreigners come and help us with our evolution.

    1. Javier

      Well… to name one city: Bogotá. If you remember the before and after Mockus the change in attitude about the city was huge, and in a positive way. The problem was that when things were starting to move in the right direction the focus was shifted to other “more important” areas. As if there was anything more important than learning to live in a community.

      Something I wanted to point out: I am living in the US now, and I have to try very hard to avoid losing my temper every time I see the people throwing cigarette butts or garbage through their cars windows. And the first time a Colombian friend was mugged in her thirtysomething years of life was in a campus town in the US midwest.

      There are problems everywhere, and we are much worse than other places in the world. But if our answer to anything and everything is always “what’s the point of doing anything” then “nos llevó el que nos trajo”

      1. drawing33

        Good that you mention Mockus….he is a good sample of that even if “short term” changes are happening, the biology of society demands ”long term”’continuity. One has to walk around Bogota today to notice that all that goodness, slowly disappeared. Of course, some physical goodness remained but the attitude went back to”basics”.

    2. Dr Paul T

      Singapore!
      Pretty amazing success story…through public campaigns to address behavior (and, of course, the threat of actual enforcement!)

  25. Juan

    Drawing33, cultural mores are not genetically transmitted to our offspring, nor do they propagate by magical virtue because we were born inside an arbitrarily-designated geographic zone. Our problem is education, not nationality.

  26. Caro

    Bravo! Excellent blog..It has made me think I really need to be less passive and stand up for what is right instead of letting it just be…

  27. Annelies Bogaards

    I totally get your point. I encounter annoying experiences like this on a daily basis and guess I wouldn´t last very long in Bogota…. luckily we´re moving to Medellin soon, but I´m not sure if it gets any better over there. Once a European, always a European….

  28. Nico Borja

    Great writing. I’m fed up with all of this as well. Yesterday the woman behind me told the other, as they simultaneously queued in both checkout lines at Homecenter, “We can do this because we’re Colombian, in the USA this isn’t allowed.”
    I think people don’t even listen to themselves speak, and at the same time question progress and precariousness in our city, when they themselves are the ones that cause it.
    I believe you’re correct in retaliating with a fuss, as we’re people who have been submitted to violence and fear all of our lives, like primitive dogs, we only respond to being told off by shouting, or being bribed.
    However, losing your calm and trying to reform people who just don’t give a shit, even if you think you’ve ruined their day, won’t result in anything other than putting yourself in danger. I recommend a swear jar, or cursing up at the heavens.
    I firmly believe things will change when all of the old buses and the precarious transportation system is eradicated. The small things matter, but when people are moving around like cattle in the most disgusting manner, they’re bound to believe they don’t deserve anything better than that. How could they? Now there’s a choice at least, with the new bus card and buses, but the majority is still a slave to the danger and discomfort of “la buseta”.

    Quality of life starts by taking the decision of being happy. If some rich prick cuts in front of me in line, I would speak my mind. I think you should have too, that would have probably made you happy.
    On the other hand, I told my taxi driver to change lanes because he was going to turn right at a point where it was prohibited, and his answer was “Pero si todo el mundo lo está haciendo”. There’s no way I was going to waste my time trying to convince this guy why making a wrong turn is… exactly as it says, wrong. Not wasting my breath, made me happy.
    So, start by yourself and your friends, and really commit to never jaywalking, buying the new bus card, not getting stuck in the middle of the road blocking the flow of traffic entirely, not paying off the policeman so he doesn’t give you a ticket, and the list goes on…

    Keep up the good work, it’s a very interesting perspective of my day to day for the last past couple of decades; actually since Lucho Garzón became mayor, to be more accurate.

  29. sol

    Ooooh, Vicky…. I feel you!!! This kind of things make me loose it!!! I am not from an “ultra-civilized” place, I was raised in the chaotic, complicated and many times, irrational Buenos Aires. But at least, there is some kind of unspoken agreement between all of “us”, that in the case of not respecting a queue, o similar lack of civility, no one at site will allow you to get along with it (sometimes, I agree, in not the most polite way…) Politicians are corrupt, things are not perfect, citizens are not the perfect example of what a polite and caring society should be. But, at least, we speak out when we don´t agree. In Bogotá, the action of pointing out something that is wrong, or someone that is being disrespectful, makes you the rude person, no matter the tone of your complaint. The only action of disagreeing, it is not accepted. They cannot say “no”, nor hear it. I was once on the line to go through customs at El Dorado Airport, arriving from Argentina. There was this very long line, and this two colombian ladies who skipped more that half of it, standing right in front of me, with 3 trolleys packed up with uncountable pieces of luggage. I kindly said to them “excuse me, there is a line, the end of it is that way”. They automatically bursted into yelling, and complaining, telling me that “what gives you the right??? we are making the line as everybody else is, we were here first, blablabla” I replied, doing my best to not explode into yelling too, that actually they were just arriving, and that it was very rude, considering that we where all in a hurry to leave the airport, and tired after a long flight, to skip the line like that. They continued arguing, so I said to rest of the people on the line “aren´t you going to say anything? Am I the only one who has noticed what is going on here?” No one said a word… it was then when one of the two ladies said: “you argentinians are all the same, you think you own the world! You should respect Colombia and Colombians, you are in MY country, so you should behave!” To which the other woman added: “Look at all this luggage, we are just coming from spending a lot of money in your country, you should be thankful to us for helping you!!!” No one, not a single person, said a-ny-thing. Only this colombian man, who was standing behind me, who quietly murmured, something only I could hear: “and you are the typical colombians that the world complaints about” …

    1. bananaskinflipflops

      Terrible! Good on you for saying something. Sometimes it is extra hard to speak up when you are a foreigner. I have made casual remarks about the way we do things in Colombia before and people have replied: “What? Is that how you do it in England? Huh? Because England is so perfect etc. etc.” and I just look at them and think, you idiot. You low self-esteem idiot. And then I try to say: “Why are you comparing Colombia to England? Can’t you see that we have the opportunity to do this better? That we can learn from other countries’ mistakes and we can contribute something to progress too?” Just because England does something badly, for me, doesn’t give Colombia the excuse to do it badly too. I live in this country because I believe in it and if we stopped comparing ourselves for a second and just decided what we want and how we are going to get it, we might stand a chance. It is not good enough to say: “Well, everyone else is doing it so…” … when I was a kid, I tried to use that argument all the time and my mother always said the same: “Well, you are not other children,” … maybe I need to get her over here 🙂

  30. JC

    Courage seems to be the recurrent theme. COURAGE: “The state or quality of mind or spirit that enables one to face danger, fear, or vicissitudes with self-possession, confidence, and resolution; bravery” (online dictionary)

    Quality of mind or spirit, that made me puzzle. I lived in London for many years and worked in an organisation which main purpose is to teach people to be more vocal and challenge injustices. However (…confession time) I experienced on a regular basis situations where I could have said or do something, such as the many times that I got on the bus and some of the young people would start behaving like absolute animals, but what did I do? Nothing, I was paralysed, I did as everyone else, continued to read my book or Evening standard paper.
    Why did I do that? I really don’t know considering what my job was. I now live in Sydney, and then again just yesterday I was walking inside a shop and as I was opening the door a Chinese lady pretending not to have seen me walked right in front of me without even thanking me for holding the door open, but because she was a bit old I though I won’t say anything. Then as I was waiting at the long queue suddenly the Chinese lady went ahead and put all her groceries in front of all of us waving her money at the cashier lady. I looked at everyone around me to see if anyone else was going to complaint, but everyone was so clamed and seemed to be smiling at her.
    Did they find her cute for doing that!? Or is it just the Aussie way that everyone is so much more relaxed about these things?? … and what did I do? I did nothing! And let her get away with it. I just find that sometimes I am not in the quality of mind and spirit to fight these things

    1. bananaskinflipflops

      I love this, because it makes “courage” seem so attainable. Courage to me always seemed like one of those hero type things, but I quite like knowing that all I need to have to be courageous is self-possession (definitely something that arrives as you get older) confidence (something that comes when you let go a bit and realise that other people are only human too – like when you think about talking to 3,000 people on a big stage for 10 minutes in the wrong language, but we will talk about that another day, gah) and RESOLUTION, the belief that what you are doing is right and the resolve to see it through. We can all do this. Every single one of us. Courage is not something elusive that “other people” have. I might write it on my hand to remind myself that.

  31. jaimefranciscogomez

    hey Banana, just some of rhythm while we fight for being part of the solution. Cheers!!! and remember…. even the Lions seek the shadow(referring to evil)… and will come the time when lambs will become Lions too(referring to…. us)

  32. Felipe

    YES YES YES YES! This blog is absolute WIN. I loathe the way people don’t speak up in this place. I often do whenever I get the chance… Must be the only bogotano who does. Grinds my gears.

    “That is how corruption begins. It’s the little things.” “When you think the rules are for other people.” <—– THIS.

    1. bananaskinflipflops

      Pues, de pronto tenemos problemas porque no recriminamos? Mi punto es que a veces tenemos que hacer algo para cambiar las cosas. Esta bien caminar por las calles de Bogotá sonriendo como Ghandi, pero si queremos nuestra ciudad a avanzar de pronto la gente buena tiene que corregir las cosas malas.

  33. Ceri

    I can actually understand what you mean by this. Living in the Americas for 17 months turned me into a much more active person … and now people back home (in the UK) tend to think I’m rude or are shocked when I speak up about things I care about. I forgot how passive Brits are. We’ll whinge to high hell but never actually do anything about it.

  34. johnjmckennaohn

    I found your article funny and can certainly relate to it. I am married to a Colombian woman and live in Bogota (I’m from the US). She always tells me that if I’m not prepared to yell and scream to get my way, I won’t get what I want living here. The other day when Avianca shut down and there were some 50 people screaming at three Avianca employees, she told me that if I didn’t start yelling I would lose my flight. I don’t like to scream and don’t find it necessary but in that situation I was tempted. However, I applied charm and a little bs and it worked. I simply said, ‘Senorita, te prometo que no te voy a gritar pero el Ministro me invito para dictar una conferencia en Pereira asi que me tienes que ayudar’. So the last part was more or less bs but she was so happy to have one person not yell at her that she took my ticket and, to the disbelief of all the ones yelling at her (not all Colombians either – the worst was a German which I found surprising), spent 15 minutes working on my ticket (keep in mind this was a midnight). In the end my next two flights were cancelled anyway but it was nice to be able to prove to my wife that the squeakiest wheel doesn’t always get the oil.

    I also like the part about the line in Carulla. I am always one to point out to people that there is a line as it never ceases to amaze me how many people just show up in the middle of the line trying to squeeze in.

    Anyhow, I do love living here. It’s a great country and the people really are genuinely friendly all around.

  35. Sherrilyn

    This post made my day! Sometimes I feel like such a crazy person losing my temper in Bogota over things like these. I am so relieved I am not the only person out there. I, being Canadian, am used to politeness and respect as well, and something like someone cutting in line NEVER happens, a taxi driver ripping you off and then yelling at YOU, what a way to ruin your day, your week, almost falling out of the bus because the driver refuses to close the door, getting robbed in plain daylight and knowing that there isn´t any use in even reporting the crime because nothing will be done of it.

    Don´t get me wrong, I love this country and this city and that is the reason for still being here 3 years later. There are some days though that I don´t know if I can handle it any longer and feel like a rag doll getting stomped on, kicked at and then sprayed with water at the corner of Calle 100 and 15 to top it all off.

    It is so important to fight injustices, even the smallest ones, as that where the change begins to happen. No matter if it is in Canada, or in Colombia, or in England. It doesn´t matter where you are! We are not comparing a country to our own but WE are all simply pointing out the little things that need to be fixed to make this city an even better place than it already is to live.

    There are fewer and fewer days that I feel abused in Bogota, but when that day occasionally does happen you can be certain that it is a very dangerous place to be in my path.

    The crazy blonde is right! Power to ya sister!

    1. bananaskinflipflops

      Hahahaha, oh, I am so with you. I got on a bus last night and was jerked immediately into cracking my head. Then I could barely pay because the driver was being such an idiot. Then he stropped at ME for taking too long and not forcing my way into the bus quickly enough. I wanted to say something extremely rude to him but then I thought, no, what would Mandela do? Smile, breathe and lead by example. Although my “Gracias señor” may have sounded a little sarcastic 🙂

  36. Natalia Velásquez

    I just found your blog and it has helped me to understand I´m not alone. After living overseas for a while and returning to my country Colombia, I can’t help but feel heartbroken, We haven’t improved even a bit, we don’t respect our neighbor, we don’t care about the person next to us, this is the survival of the fittest or in this case the richest “o el mas vivo”. I’m still trying to find a reason to love Colombia, but I can’t and I feel guilty about it. Every time I go out and find myself faced with this society, who knows there is a urgent need to change but they just don’t want to or they are waiting for others to change , I feel helpless, very frustated and sad at times.

    I wanted to know why foreigners choose Colombian as a destination, I can understand that we have that exotic part that we all want in our holydays, ok I get that , but why to choose this messy country as their “home”, where institutions do not work, where you can not walk on the street without fear, where jobs don’t pay you what you deserve. Is it because is cheaper to live here ? , I would love to know that reason, maybe it will help me to love my country.And yes I need to hear the opinion of someone from overseas, because people here are so used to this mess, that they don’t even see it anymore, it is the new normal.

    PS: I like your blog.

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