Centuries ago, when this blog was a baby, I wrote about the Latin Poker Face and how it differed from my own, dismally readable, English features. I’d been to the Bogotá Gold Museum and read about the importance the ancient, indigenous Colombians had placed on blank expressions, including the fact their leaders used to wear jaguar masks to channel the power of their enigmatic faces.
At the time I was horrified to be so transparent, but nowadays I’ve learned to be inscrutable too – an art which reached a pinnacle recently when my boyfriend, a professional singer, dragged me into the bathroom, pointed at the mirror and said: “You need a photo smile, so however you feel, your smile will stay the same.” (I had thought I would escape his photographs with fans but it turns out being excessively tall, blonde and hesitant is enough to get you dragged into shot. I practiced my “photo smile” for about 30 seconds – each more hideous than the last – until I decided I would just look however I feel. At least each photograph will be original)
When it comes to my boyfriend’s, mostly female, fans though, I am very lucky. They are often older than the pair of us and when they stop him in the street, on transmilenio or in restaurants they fuss over him in a motherly way and extend the same kindness to me.
But what has been fascinating, for my cold little writer’s heart, has been the celebrity events I now dutifully attend. If I told you I once saw a B-list Colombian diva come off stage, scream: “No, you CANNOT have photographs taken now, can’t you see I am SWEATING? Will SOMEBODY get me a TISSUE?!” at her crestfallen fans before dabbing her cut-glass cheeks, turning sweetly back to them and declaring: “Okay, who wants a photograph?” (Answer: no-one) would you believe me?
Few people at these events make eye contact with me either, because I am not wealthy, powerful or famous and I once spent more than an hour writing an article called “10 Tips for Surviving a Colombian Celebrity Party” in my head. I never typed that article into existence (who would read it?) but I know it kept me sane and, more importantly, kept an interested-but-otherwise-occupied expression on my face. Because there is only one thing worse than going unnoticed at those events… and that is being noticed.
A woman once told me that my boyfriend was only with me to “improve the race” (your guess is as good as mine there) Another cooed about how lucky I was to have come “from my country” and “obtained” a nice man like my boyfriend. A third said something similar but used the word “taken” instead of “obtained” so I immediately imagined myself as a sort of leggy Sir Francis Drake (“Oo-arrrr, we’re not ‘ere for yer gold me luvvies, oh no, we’re ‘ere for yer men, ye’ hear? YER MEN!”) and the corresponding gleam of madness in my eyes was enough to drive her away.
But I am not here to complain. Oh no. I am here to tell you how beautifully I am managing all this thanks to the help of my shiny new poker face. Really, it is quite fabulous. I developed it because, firstly, I noticed that no matter how tedious or exciting, how exotic or how excruciating, the event, my boyfriend always wears the same expression of polite pleasure. Secondly, he always, always, says afterwards what a nice time he had before changing the subject. I realised it was a two-fold strategy and one I have seen performed by hundreds of Colombians: 1) If you pretend to be having a good time, you will have a better time 2) If you say that you had a nice time, that means you had a nice time and you get to move on.
The tactic is glorious in its simplicity and perfect for me because it’s a cross between the British: “Oh, he’s feeling a little poorly,” (cancer/heart attack) and the Colombian: “My wife and I are very happy,” (divorcing) and, once you practice, it’s not even that hard. You just make sure you smile all the time and, as soon as you escape, you don’t waste time complaining but say things like: “Wasn’t that fun? Now, shall we go home, make hot dogs and eat them in bed with Sherlock Holmes?”
Really, I think this might be another key to eternal happiness. I’ve been reflecting on what I have achieved this year and my new-found inscrutability is definitely up there. My poker face is awesome. I’m keeping it.
I don’t wear it all the time though, not with real friends. A little while ago my boyfriend and I went to have tea with a group of them, whom I consider to be like family.
“They are really good friends to you,” my boyfriend observed afterwards, in the taxi home.
“They’re the best,” I replied.
“And you’re at your best with them,” he continued, giving me his real smile.
“It’s not like when we go to those events and I always want to give you a hug because you look so desperately like you want to be somewhere else.”
Like this? You’ll love Colombia a comedy of errors.