Well, it’s been seventeen years since I first arrived to Colombia. I flew into the Pereira airport after a two-day travesty of missed flights, missed connections (winter winter winter weather) and a blubbering meltdown in the Miami airport because of said missed flights. Finally, after spending the night in a paid-for-by-sympathetic-airline hotel, I boarded a flight for Bogota where a nice flight attendant ushered me into a small waiting room. Then I boarded the flight to Pereira, experienced a very bumpy bumpy landing, and walked down the Avianca stairs onto the tarmac. There was a crowd of people at a fence waving at me, and I felt totally and completely … terrified.
This is my home now. I married a Colombian (love this guy!) and have two Colombo-American daughters. (More Colombian than American). Much to my dismay, they don’t like peanut butter. I know. And Cheerios are marginally acceptable to them. I know. I know. It’s hard for me to wrap my brain around that one.
So, as I said, Colombia is home. But I’ve realized that I’ll always be a foreigner here, and there are some things I just don’t get. It’s taken me a long time to come to terms with these, “Huh?” things. But I’ve accepted them and have learned to question less, shrug my shoulders, and instead of “huh?” I say, “Hmmm.” (Mostly to myself, though, because I can’t deal with another explanation of the inexplicable!)
(And I’m WELL aware many Colombians look at me and the things I do and say “huh?” too!)
The idea, I think, behind giving free products when someone purchases a product is to either introduce the customer to a new line of products similar to what the customer already is buying or give a bonus product that most customers combine with the purchased product. (Say that ten times fast.) I’m not in advertising or marketing, but it seems that that would make sense.
dandruff shampoo with a free dulce de leche sample; milk with free pencils; razors with canned sardines …
It’s kind of like bacon gumballs. Just …huh?
These are just the ones I remember. I’m not making this up. I’m simply not this creative.
Semantics, semantics, semantics:
Ahora literally means “now.” Now, however, does not exist in Colombia. For instance, if you were to shout out, “Oh, look out! A bus is going to run you over ahora.” The guy would be one smashed frogger. Just by using “ahora”, you’re suggesting he has oodles of time. So, if nothing is now … what is now? And if Colombians swear by living in the “now” but don’t have “now” …
“Huh?” I know! This, do not be fooled, is Colombian, not Spanish.
Me (while working in cafe in Spain): Would you like more coffee.
Spanish guy: Mas tarde (later)
Me: Okay. Ahora.
Spanish guy: No. mas tarde.
Me: I know. Ahorita.
Spanish guy (clearly irritated by the stupid American. They don’t like us much over there, you know): I said mas tarde.
Me (muttering): Damn ahora
The only time I’ve heard a Colombian use ahora meaning now was when I was in labor.
Doctor: Oh. It looks like she’s coming ahora.
Me (moving to get up):
Doctor: Where are you going?
Me: To vaccuum. I have lots of time (major nesting happening here). Uff. What’s that weird pressure?
Doctor: The baby. She’s coming ahora.
Me: Ahora as in ahora or ahora as in ahora?
Trust me. While in labor, it’s not the best time to get in a semantic discussion with your Ob/Gyn.
In Colombia, they call blondes “mona.” Colombians love nicknames. It’s never meant in a derogatory way, and I think it’s kind of nice. So, let’s take the Colombian blonde test:
Which of these members of my family are mona(o)?
If you said, “all of the above,” you are right!
Yeah. I don’t get it, either.
Interpretive Traffic Signals:
Red is greenish, never really red. Green is always green, even if it’s red. And yellow is more of a sign to rev your engines and hit the gas. Basically, if you’re crossing the street, run like hell.
El sereno (serenar):
Here, people always talk about el sereno in whispers and almost always as if it were a menacing thing. Of course I didn’t speak Spanish when I arrived, so imagine when somebody told me that her uncle got pneumonia because of el sereno, I was freaked out thinking, “Oh shit. Do they have a vaccination for that stuff?”
Literally, serenar means to go out in the evening.
Yep. That’s it.
And people here are terrified of the deathly effects of “el sereno”. Most people here have never lived in snow. So when we’re in the tropics, and temperatures drop to the low sixties, panic sets in if somebody has a sniffle.
“Don’t you serenar or you could kick it.”
“What happened to Phil?” “Bronchitis?” “Did he serenar?” “Yeah. Silly, silly Phil.”
Living with parents:
I get that a lot of the time people live with family members because of economics. I’m talking about the Latin cultural aspect of it here. It’s very much the same in Spain, France, Italy … and Colombia. People live with their parents long after high school, college, getting a steady job, becoming economically independent.
I just don’t get it. (Just as they don’t get why we don’t, I suppose.)
Maybe if I stick around another 17 years, I’ll be able to resolve (in my very core) one of these things. Plus, I might have daughters who never, ahem, leave the nest. Who knows what will be?
Until then, I’m grateful that I have a beautiful home surrounded by beautiful people who tend to be terrified of evenings.
Happy Birthday to me! I love you, Colombia.