You learn a lot about a culture by living there for a few months. Here are some items that I can now appreciate thanks to my experience in this great country.
1. The language itself is very formal. Usted is used more frequently than tú (although some places do utilize vos). However, in Colombia the custom is to respond to your mother with “Señora”. If your mother calls you and you respond with something else, expect to hear an earful!
2. If you sick, you’re best chance at survival is drinking some hot aguapanela. Everyone’s favorite home remedy is a typical drink as well (Panela is unrefined whole cane sugar). I had a cough for weeks and it wasn’t until I had some panela did I actually feel better! I’m a believer now.
Related: Mexican Health Care: If you’ve even been taken care of by a Mexican mom, you’ll understand this.
3. ¡Qué Pereza! One of my favorite sayings. If you don’t feel like doing something, this is the go-to phrase. Pretty popular for students too!
4. Buñuelo y Natilla: A Christmas tradition. Buñuelo is a tasty, fried ball of dough, which you can get at any café, great with your coffee for breakfast. But it is also a tradition on Christmas. Natilla is a custard-like dessert.
5. I experienced this on my first trip to Colombia, and it’s a practice that makes sense. Rather than get your fingers and hands greasy while eating fried-chicken, many Colombians will wear plastic gloves. A lot of restaurants hand them out in a little packet.
6. This is a regional curiosity. At least in the department of Risaralda, it is common to put honey or even pink sauce (ketchup + mayo) on your pizza. Being from Chicago and loving pizza, I was a bit taken back at first. But by the end of my stay, I was loading up my slices of pizza with as much sauce as I could.
7. This is one of my favorite gestures! It took me awhile to figure out that the person wasn’t just twitching their lips, but was actually pointing at something! If their hands are full/busy or they want to point something out discretely, watch their face. No finger pointing needed here!
8. Ok, most of you are probably familiar with this if you have ever traveled to Central or South America. As you know, it is not common to have hot water in your houses, therefore in order to avoid a shower with agua fría, some houses will have these installed to heat the water so you don’t freeze to death.
Edit: 2 more that we’ve noticed:
9. This is an interesting comparison in cultures. Where I’m from the elevator can be an awkward place, as people tend to avoid making eye contact and avoid having to talk to the person. In Colombia, everyone who enters an elevator greets the people who are alread inside and the person who gets out will say goodbye and wish everyone a good day.
10. Colombia is known for its coffee, so many people are surprised to find that not every Colombian likes coffee. In fact, at breakfast you are either offered chocolate or café con leche (btw, black coffee is known as tinto in Colombia). In my experience, the majority of Colombians that I observed would always drink chocolate for breakfast.
Lastly, we’ll leave you with a list of our favorite Colombian expressions:
¿Qué más? – Asking someone how’s it going.
¡Qué pena! – I’m sorry. / Qué pena con usted. – Excuse me.
¡A la orden! – At your service.
Parce – Dude
Cheveré / Bacano – Cool
¿Bien o que? – using “o que” at the end of a question. In this case asking if someone is well or not.
Paisa – someone from the region of Antioquia
For more, or further explanations, here is a good summary of Colombian Spanish.
We also recommend reading this article about 10 things that you shouldn’t say to a Colombian.
For those who have traveled to Colombia, or are from Colombia, what experiences would you add to this list?