17 Things to Know About Colombian Culture
I was at the barbershop getting my beard trimmed. Colombian culture, foreigners, women, and more were the topics at hand. Like many a Colombian dude, my barber was telling me about the stunning women in Medellin.
I countered that I preferred women from other parts of the country. He just laughed, “My girlfriend is from Medellin. She lives there.”
“That must suck for you,” I replied in mediocre Spanish. Long-distance relationships are never fun, but then a shit-eating grin came across his face.
“Es mejor,” he grinned ear to ear. Being away from his girlfriend was better, as he was able to have other girlfriends on the side. While infidelity isn't as common in Colombia as some claim, it's definitely a part of the culture.
Still, Colombia is one of my favorite countries in the world. While I'm by no means an expert on Colombian culture, I have picked up on a few things during my time in the country.
17 Things to Know About Colombian Culture
Honestly, it's difficult to understand a culture completely as an outsider, but I'll do my best here. So here are 17 things I've noticed as a foreigner about Colombian culture:
Huge Country with Many Cultures
Colombia is a huge country of around 50 million people, so it can be hard to generalize. The culture of the Caribbean coast is way different than that in Bogota or in the coffee region.
Each of the main areas or cities in Colombia is completely different. Bogota is somewhat “Americanized” and has amazing nightlife. Cali is known for salsa dancing. The coast of Colombia is one of the more unique places I've ever visited. There's a lot of variety here.
Friendly, Helpful People
No matter where you go in Colombia, you'll quickly notice how friendly and helpful many of the people are. Tourism was fairly stifled here for many years, and only recently has taken off.
As such, many Colombians want foreigners to have a great impression of their country. So they'll go out of their way to accommodate you in many situations. Plus, they're just a friendly and happy people overall.
Proud of Their Country
While Colombia had it's string of tough times during the narco years, the country remained proud. Many a Colombian will avoid talking negatively about anything in their country, as they are exceptionally proud of Colombia.
And they should be. The country is filled with stunning nature, amazing tourism, and great people. While it may not be perfect, there's a lot to love about Colombian culture and the people.
The Women Aren't Ugly
The rumors are true. Colombian girls are not ugly. In fact, they can be pretty damn sexy. Many have stunning jet black hair, pretty faces, and look pretty solid in a swimsuit.
But don't think they care too much about foreigners. Colombianas aren't jumping your bones just because you're a gringo. There are thousands of dudes here from all over the world. If she's that impressed by your passport, she probably has ulterior motives. Just FYI…
Colombians Love to Dance, Especially Salsa
Dancing is a HUGE part of Colombian culture. You'll see 70-year old men dancing some salsa steps along outside the local mini-market on a regular basis. Outside of Bogota, people don't really go out to have a few drinks. They go out to dance.
And when they dance, it's often salsa. While reggaeton reigns supreme in Medellin, Salsa is still king throughout every region in Colombia. Learning the basic steps will make partying in Colombia more fun.
People Go Out With Friends
In the States, you'll often find guys and girls going out with a friend or two and mingling at the bar. In Colombia, that's not a common ordeal. People go out in big groups with their friends.
Outside of Bogota, you won't want to roll around with just a foreign friend. You'll need to make some friends and go party in big groups. If you don't, many a local will see you as some type of outcast.
More Than Just Drugs
Colombia is known worldwide for cocaine. And I won't lie – there's a ton of cocaine in Colombia. More than I ever imagined. However, the country is so much more than drugs and pretty women.
Once you really dive in and work to make some Colombian friends, you'll see a different side to Colombia. You'll find friendly, hardworking people and some of the best nature in the whole world.
While Colombia has a lot more to offer than cocaine, there's no doubt narco culture is still alive and well to this day. Drugs are prominent and narcos can be found all over the country. Luckily, you won't have to deal with them at all – if you stay away from the underbelly of Colombia.
They Love to Make Fun of Costeno's Spanish
Colombians from the interior of the country love to make fun of people from the coast, especially how they speak Spanish. When you bring up learning Spanish and the Costeno accent, many a Colombian will claim they can't understand Costenos, either.
It's kind of a running joke throughout the country. While it's funny, there's some truth to it. If you're looking to learn Spanish, the people in Bogota and the coffee region speak a crisp, clear Spanish that is easy to understand.
More Holidays Than Anywhere Else
Got damn! Colombians really, really love holidays. They love long weekends and extra days off work. There's nearly 20 public holidays each year and many Colombians get a full week off for Easter and Christmas. That's on top of their regular vacation time.
In comparison, the United States only has 11 holidays each year. Gringos don't get a full week off at Christmas or Easter. Colombian has more public holidays than any other country in the world. Or so I've been told.
Speaking Spanish Goes a Long Way
If you can speak a little Spanish, you'll be rewarded in Colombia. Many a gringo comes here without a lick of Spanish speaking abilities. This is especially true in places like Medellin, Cartagena, and Santa Marta.
If you can speak Spanish, you separate yourself from the packs of tourist. Colombians will treat you with more respect and it'll be much easier to make local friends. If you plan to spend some time here, then make an effort to learn some Spanish.
Infidelity is Common
“You guys are faithful, right?” I looked at him with a perplexed look – no idea what he was talking about. “We aren't!” He laughed. I was confused what my friend, the cashier at Juan Valdez, was talking about.
Then I realized he was talking about relationships and infidelity. Apparently, infidelity is more tolerated in Colombia than in other places. While I've still found a number of loyal, trustworthy people here who are disgusted by infidelity – there's no denying infidelity plays a small role in Colombian culture.
Coffee Reigns Supreme
Colombian coffee is absolutely world-class and plays a huge role in the culture here. Many a Colombian drinks coffee all day, every day. I once asked a friend how many “tintos” she drank each day. She said five. Five full cups of coffee every single day. That's too much.
Juan Valdez is the Starbucks of Colombia – except it's way better. If you're in the country, you absolutely must try some coffee from Juan Valdez. It's absolutely fantastic.
Not All Women From Pereira Are “Perras”
Many a Colombian man will tell you about the women from Pereira. According to all of the locals, the women in Pereira are a bit looser than anywhere else. Of course, the guys use a little bit different language to describe them.
It's not true. While the women may be attractive in Pereira, they certainly aren't all whores like Colombian dudes would want you to think. In fact, I found all the people, both male and female, to be exceptionally friendly and down-to-earth throughout the coffee region, including Pereira.
The Donkey Stories Are True
While the Pereira stereotypes may not hold true, the tales of donkey sex on the coast are accurate. Young males in the small towns along the Caribbean coast of Colombia do occasionally have sex with donkeys to lose their “virginity” or something along those lines.
Don't take my word for it. Just check out this Vice documentary:
Lots of Bogota Hate
Many a Colombian likes to hate on the capital, Bogota. According to Calenos, Paisas, and the people on the coast – Bogota is cold, the people are rude, and the women are all ugly.
It's simply not true. Bogota is one of the best cities in all of Latin America. There are many friendly people in the city and the nightlife is amazing. While the weather sometimes sucks, don't pass on Bogota just because your Colombian friends aren't fans.
Plastic Surgery is Common
Cosmetic and plastic surgeries are common in Colombia. Both men and women occasionally get work done. Girls get fake breasts, fake butts, liposuction, and nose jobs. Men get hair transplants, liposuction, and more. It's a small part of Colombian culture.
While more common than in the United States, plastic surgery isn't as common here as some believe. The vast majority of Colombians never get any surgeries.
Colombian Culture 101
While I'm by no means an expert on Colombian culture, these are a few things I noticed while living in this great country. If you've noticed anything else about Colombian culture while in the country, feel free to sound off in the comments.