I once took a taxi in Bogotá and the driver, for reasons known only to himself, began to wax lyrical about his wife. “She is my best friend, she is the smartest woman I know, I trust her with everything,” he gushed. “And do you know, in 12 years, I have only slept with two other women?”
That still makes me laugh, even as I write it.
I think marriage is hard enough without other people jumping in to judge what you get up to, so I stress, from the outset, that what fascinates me about this comment is not the fact he had slept with two other women. It is the fact a) he thought the number was an achievement and b) he thought it was such an achievement he could share it with a complete stranger and she would probably applaud (I think I managed to stutter a gentle: “Oh? That’s nice,” in reply)
I have long been fascinated by the nature of romantic relationships in Colombia, the power structures that unite men and women here, the friendship and camaraderie that exists within the sexes, the attitude towards the way partners behave and this is just one of the many anecdotes that has stuck with me.
A male friend recently tried to explain to me what he perceived to be the difference in attitude between England and Colombia toward sex, marriage and fidelity.
“Okay, so if you go for a drink with a friend in England, a married friend and he tells you he has started sleeping with his secretary, he feels embarrassed about it,” my friend said.
“And you say: “Jesus mate, what are you doing? Why are you telling me this? I am friends with your WIFE for God’s sake!” and you might discuss it or whatever but the general idea is that what he is doing is wrong and is only going to cause disaster for everyone.”
“Here in Colombia, when the same thing happens, the guy slaps the other guy on the back, says ‘Always thought that secretary was hot’ and understands the unwritten, unspoken rule that if the cheated upon wife were ever to find out, he would be a social outcast.”
Please note that in this story both men are cheating and this research is hardly sophisticated. But, as always, it is the perception of culture that is the interesting part, don’t you think?
I have often asked my female Colombian friends about the attitude of their menfolk toward fidelity and when I did so last week one rolled her eyes and said: “Darling, why do you think Colombian women are like bees around a honeypot when it comes to foreign men?” (okay, so she didn’t use that absurd English expression, she actually cupped her hands together and did a little “zoom” noise, but it was basically the same thing)
Everyone is different though and I don’t believe that nationality predisposes people toward certain behaviours. But I do think culture is controlling and stifling and difficult to over-rule and if your society says “this is okay” you feel a lot more comfortable doing it than if your society says “this is not okay”. And if your mates think cheating is okay, is it easier to cross that line?
(This doesn’t stop shedloads of people in anti-cheating cultures from crossing the line. Still, I can’t imagine an English cab driver making the same confession, even if he had the same record)
I long to do a proper study of Colombian attitudes towards fidelity and I have wanted to write about this for ages to find out what you think. I would like views from both men and women because I am a woman with a lot of female friends and that does make my anecdotes a bit biased.
And now, at last, I have a decent excuse to ask you because the Economist, that oracle, has gone and published this lovely article about British attitudes to sex.
For those that cannot be bothered to read it, the article says that British people take a dim view of extramarital affairs, apparently in 1990 45% of our men and 53% of our women thought it was wrong to cheat and now those numbers are even higher – 63% and 70% respectively.
The slightly adorable reason they give is, first, the recession (apparently we British people like to, er, stick together in a crisis) and, secondly, because that super-smart new generation of whatever-they-are-called has looked at all of the mistakes that have gone before them and thought, okay, not going to repeat that one.
Do you think the Economist would do a survey for us on attitudes to fidelity in Colombia? And, if they did, what do you think it would find?
Like this? You’ll love Colombia a comedy of errors.