Living in a foreign country is always interesting. Learning the language is one thing, but learning about the culture is completely different. In my time in Medellín, I have noticed several things Colombians do that foreigners may find weird or even funny.
When I arrived in Medellín there were some things Colombians do that clearly stood out right away. And other things Colombian do that I noticed by observing the locals after being in Medellín for a while.
In this article I look at my top 12 things Colombians do that foreigners may find weird or funny.
Note the above photo is Colombians celebrating Christmas, something that Colombians do on a completely different level.
1. Cheese Seems to be On and In Everything
Colombians love cheese. Their love to cheese goes so far, that they put it nearly on and in almost everything.
You think you only ordered a fruit salad? There’s most probably gonna be some cheese on it. Oblea (like a flattened waffle cone ) will be served with arequipe, jam and of course, cheese.
Hot chocolate with cheese is also a thing that Colombians like to drink. The list of foods in Colombia with cheese seems to be endless. Also, I have to mention, that the cheese here is not as salty and strong in taste. It’s fresh cheese. And it’s soft in texture and pretty neutral in taste.
2. Colombians Think Saying “No” to Someone is Rude
Colombians are one of the friendliest people I have ever met. They help you as much as they can and would never dare saying “No” directly to someone.
Colombian‘s will rather tell you a story of why something doesn’t work, instead of just saying “No”. That’s because they usually grow up thinking that saying directly “No” to somebody might be rude.
It’s just a culture thing. And one has to get used to if he/she comes from a more direct culture, to not be perceived as rude.
3. Colombians Celebrate Christmas on a Completely Different Level.
Colombians really celebrate Christmas in a huge way each year. And Christmas is almost a month-long celebration in Colombia. It’s not just a single day or a weekend.
Medellín in particular celebrates Christmas with its world-class Medellín Christmas lights that are turned on for over a month.
The Christmas season in Colombia unofficially tends to start on December 7, which is known as Día de las Velitas (Day of Candles). People place paper lanterns and candles, which placed on porches, balconies, streets, sidewalks, squares and parks in cities and pueblos throughout Colombia.
Also, after Christmas day, Colombia celebrates “The Day of the Innocent Saints” on December 28. This is a day dedicated to playing practical jokes on friends and family.
4. Colombians Want to Help You Badly
If you ask (especially a stranger) a question, like: “where is the nearest supermarket” or “where can I get a hamburger”. They might just don’t know the answer to that question and probably won’t tell you that they don’t know.
Colombians are so nice, they will try to help you even when they don’t know the answer to your question.
So, rather than saying: “Sorry I don’t know” they will make up a story or tell you anything to help you even though it’s not true.
To figure out the difference between a “real” answer and an “I want to help you so badly but I don’t know” answer can be challenging at the beginning.
It’s very common in Colombia to find this out when asking for directions. Ask for directions from a passerby and if they don’t know they still will tell you something like “three blocks ahead and to the right”. So, you follow their directions and find out there is nothing there.
Then you ask someone else at this location and they tell you it’s five blocks in the other direction. And you end up going in circles.
Honestly it’s usually better to rely on Google Maps then ask for directions in Colombia.
5. There’s No Age for Wearing Braces in Colombia
Beauty is really important in Colombia, especially women are putting a lot of effort in. Whereas in the U.S. or Europe, it seems almost only kids wear braces.
In Colombia, it’s not unusual seeing Colombians of all ages wearing braces. Some Colombian friends told me, that the braces are like a status symbol, for wealth or having money.
Of course that’s not the only reason because many just couldn’t afford braces as a teen and are now catching up on the dental work. Besides all this, the goal is still to get a beautiful smile.
But since braces aren’t a thing that every Colombian can afford, they are wearing them proudly and at all ages.
6. Don’t be Surprised to be Called by a Nickname or Your Status
Colombians are really friendly and welcoming people. That’s why it surprised me even more that they nickname people by their appearance. For instance, you can get called ”negrito” (black person) when you’re black or “mono” (white person) when you’re white.
Same with your height or your body size, it’s possible that you get called “gordito” (fat) if you’re bigger or “flaco” (skinny) because you’re skinny, and so on.
Keep in mind, that this is just the way they talk to each other no matter if you’re a foreigner or a local. And it’s usually not meant to be offensive.
7. There is Always Something to Celebrate in Colombia
As you might know, Colombians love to party! There seems to be a celebration for almost everything. They celebrate youth, plantain, there’s even the celebration for laziness, “dia de la pereza”. The list of celebrations in Colombia seems to be endless.
In addition, Colombia has has more public holidays than most countries with a total of 18 holidays during the year. Some Colombians may not even know what some of the Colombia holidays stand for, but will certainly celebrate.
Colombians use every occasion to drink aguardiente (anise-flavoured liqueur), to sing and to dance together. Even if you’re not dancing, drinking or singing, you will have fun watching the Colombians doing it.
There’s no age limit for partying here. Usually the abuelos “grandfathers” and abuelas “grandmothers” will dance, drink and sing on parties together with their grandsons and granddaughters.
Believe me when I say, you will never have to worry about getting bored in Medellín or other cities in Colombia, there’s always something going on.
8. You Get Asked for Tips in Restaurants in Colombia
Since the law in Colombia does not allow to charge tips directly, in Colombia they usually ask you (especially in tourist areas) if they can charge you a tip. This was something I was not used to.
Sometimes it’s automatically on the bill without asking. But a note will typically be on the bill that says that it isn’t mandatory to pay the propina (tip). The voluntary tip in restaurants in Colombia is currently about 10 percent.
In my opinion it is uncomfortable to get this question asked. Also, I am way too friendly to say “no” to a waiter for charging me tip. As far as I know, Colombians usually don’t tip like in the U.S. in example. So, not everybody in Colombia expects an automatic tip.
You can decide if you want to tip or not. And you don’t have to feel obligated to tip, even though you’re used to it from back home.
9. Colombians Seem to be Late for Almost Everything
Fact is, that you always need a plan B or even plan C when having a meeting with a Colombian. They are just not used to be punctual and since it’s not considered as rude as it is in the U.S. and Europe they have no reason to change.
Sometimes they will tell you, that they’re on their way. At times they say that but are still laying in bed and haven’t even showered yet.
Or sometimes they bring up some random excuses like: “I need to go grocery shopping with my mom”, that’s not even necessarily a lie. They just don’t seem to prioritize time very much.
So, keep this in mind when you’re having a date, appointment, meeting or whatever it might be. Always make sure that if this person doesn’t show up, you already have another plan.
This can be frustrating and can take some time to get used to for foreigners. And the Medellin Guru site previous covered not being on time in an article about Medellín dating tips and advice for foreign men.
But this doesn’t mean all Colombians are late. I have met a few that are very punctual.
10. Colombians Drink Coffee All Day Long
Colombians tend to drink coffee all day long. A Colombian may have a cup of tinto in the morning with breakfast, with lunch, with an evening snack, as dessert with dinner. And finally may even have a small cup before going to bed.
While in the U.S., it is common only to drink a single cup of coffee in the morning. Coffee shops in the U.S. do most of their business before 10 am.
But in Colombia, coffee shops don’t rely only on a morning rush. At coffee shops in Colombia, 3 pm and 7 pm tend to be busier than the early morning.
Also, in Colombia, your average Colombian usually makes a distinction between tinto and cafe (coffee). Tinto is a thicker more concentrated version that is made with commodity beans and sold in small cups. You can find many people selling tinto from thermoses on the street.
It’s only over the past few years in Colombia that coffee shops selling quality coffee have really started taking off. And on the Medellin Guru website we previous looked at the top 5 coffee shops in El Poblado and the top 8 coffee shops in Laureles.
11. Colombians Don’t Sit Down Right Away on a Bus
Sitting in a bus and watching other people can be really interesting. For instance, when a seat in a bus gets free, Colombians tend to first uncomfortably lean on the back of the seat before sitting down.
They do it in order to let the seat cool down before they sit on it. Just another funny and unusual thing I get to see in Medellín.
The rationale is supposedly that person who just left the seat you’re about to sit in has left their body heat behind and that this can cause the spread of germs.
12. Colombians Treat Dogs Like Babies
You usually see this behavior in movies. The typical granny talking to her little dog in a high pitched voice and dressing it like a baby.
That’s daily life here in Colombia and with every age group. Colombians adore their little hairy companions. They love to dress them up with a Colombia shirt or another cute little outfit. The “little fella” will get spoiled, like a human baby.
Also, there’s a really high tolerance for dogs everywhere. When you have a dog you can enter most restaurants and most stores with it.
Also, no matter where I have been so far in Medellín, I usually have seen a pet store nearby and off course in every mall.
The Bottom Line: 12 Things Colombians Do That Foreigners May Find Weird
Colombia is a different country with different habits and some things Colombians do may seem to be weird by foreigners. But it would be boring if you would know everything already and everything was the same, right?
My state of mind changed a lot since I traveled and now live in Colombia. I was always afraid of speaking a foreign language, because I was to afraid of making mistakes.
My embarrassment tolerance went sky high since I‘m living in Colombia. I now speak Spanish with locals even though I know I might say or pronounce something wrong, but that doesn’t stop me anymore from speaking.
On top of that, Colombians taught me how to not overthink everything, but just enjoy the moment. In this way I got to know a lot more people, learn more about the culture and also improve my language skills everyday.
The bottom line is that the things Colombians do that foreigners may find weird or just funny or unusual are from our point of view. But they are normal for Colombians.
These things Colombians do you will need to get used to, but that’s one of the nice things about foreign countries. You get to experience different cultures and habits.
With those different habits you get to see new things and get to understand the new culture even better.
I recommend to everyone, come with an open mind to Colombia. And when seeing something that is unusual or unknown, try not judge them for doing it, but to try it yourself.
You will be surprised how tasty things can be that may sound or look weird. Or how enjoyable somethings can be that you never did before like dancing Salsa.
What other weird things Colombians do have expat readers experienced?
Also, check out the article my husband wrote about our expat story moving to Medellín, how a couple from Switzerland moved to Medellín, started a business and are loving Medellín.
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