Funny Foreigners

By bogotapost September 10, 2014

Marian Romero García ponders some of the eccentricities of expats

Colombians like drinking aguardiente and having a fun night out, but drinking with foreigners is a whole different ballgame!         Photo: matias jaramillo, Creative Commons

Colombians like drinking aguardiente and having a fun night out, but drinking with foreigners is a whole different ballgame! Photo: matias jaramillo, Creative Commons

So here we are, in the city that scared everyone off. Ten years ago it was almost a miracle to find one small group of brave foreigners walking around La Candelaria in their summer dresses, shorts and flip flops. Those were appropriate outfits, in theory, for the tropical country they had dared to include on their long trip to Latin America.

Bogota received them with open arms, and its well-known prolonged rainy season. It’s not called the city of eternal Autumn for nothing. This particular feature of my city is hated by some tourists (probably the ones that came expecting permanent sunny weather) and embraced by others. They say it makes them feel at home (maybe they are just joking and preparing their next trip to Cartagena).

But despite the weather, the number of these brave visitors has been growing. With their light eyes, blond hair (yes, for us, hair lighter than black is blond), mellifluous Spanish, and power-walking through crowds, foreigners are now a permanent fixture, many of them here to stay.

Perhaps because it is easier now to find them, and make friends with them, detecting their peculiarities is easier too.  I think it is time for a right to reply, as generalizing about Colombians is commonplace in the expat community. So, here is my short list of quirky things I’ve noticed foreigners do:

Booze Abroad, or taking pride in alcoholism
We Bogotanos like our beer and aguardiente – and we drink the latter making the same face of disgust, using all our facial muscles, as everybody else. We drink it, we have a fun night out, and we go home. But drinking with foreigners is a whole new ball game. Drinking is assumed to be an acceptable form of competition. Common conversations openers include, “I have a killer hangover. Yesterday I drank 10 beers, 5 tequilas and 4 aguardientes”…ad infinitum, on a Wednesday!

As soon as they find out that you can buy a whole bottle of booze in a bar here, and at a very reasonable price compared to their own countries, they start the night with a bottle of something, followed by several others. It is easy to get embarrassingly smashed by 10pm if you follow their rhythm, and they are only getting started. Some foreigners assume that NOT to behave in this fashion makes you boring.

Flushing (t)issue
Yes, the Colombian plumbing system is not the best. We see proof of that every time it rains heavily and we have to start jumping newly forged rivers everywhere. If you have been living in Colombia long enough, you will remember the time when the 26th avenue became an urban Amazonas in matter of minutes. That should be the first clue that stops you from putting into the toilet something that hasn’t been eaten first. Your toilet may withstand a few rounds of paper, but you might very quickly find yourself heading up the proverbial creek.

Door hate or muscle building
One day I went to meet a couple of my expat friends for dinner, let`s call them Mark and Jeremy.  Over dinner, Mark mentioned that his neighbour was a bitter old lady who had been complaining all the time about how hard they closed the doors. We all agreed she sounded mental.

But then, as I descended the stairs with Mark on our way out …BANG!  I thought somebody had let off a firework next to me. Apparently Mark was utterly unaware of the ridiculously loud slam as Jeremy shut the door.

We got in a taxi.  BANG. BANG. Was it Guy Fawkes? Nope, just two oblivious foreigners unaware of their surroundings. Slamming doors getting in and out, the driver cringing with fear that his cab was on its last legs. Then I realised it is a normal thing for them, to go through life taking out some pent up frustration on whatever unassuming door is in their way.

It’s alright, you can keep doing it, so long as you don’t mind taking the risk of being insulted by every taxi driver you meet. However, if you come round my house, you better be bloody careful. I don’t need to see how strong you’ve gotten eating arepas.

As you can see, my dear readers, you lot make quite an impression on us bogotanos. That said, having you here is a great experience for us. Welcome to this sui generis wonderland. Go ahead and drink water from the tap (yes, it is pure and safe). Proudly show off your quirky things. After all, those odd little details are what we love the most about our international visitors.

Marian Romero is a Colombian journalist who has been living in Bogota for the last 10 years and specialises in urban culture and social development.

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