Bogota · Colombia · South America · Teaching English

Culture Shock – (I’m pretty sure that’s what it is)

So, I grew up in South America and Mexico as a child.  I always fit in better in Latin America than I did in the US.  We came back to the US every three or four years for a year and my time in the US was always miserable (in spite of the TV and non-stop electricity, indoor plumbing and hot showers!).

I just assumed that I was made for Latin America and truly I have been very very happy here and have been planning on finding a way to stay here and not return to the US.  I thought that everything was fine.

Well, I have been here in Colombia for 7 months now and I am assuming that what I am now feeling is culture shock – there is really no other way to explain it.  I have been overwhelmed with the slowness of processing things – like buying my new cell phone after mine was stolen.  I have been overwhelmed by the amount of paperwork and bureaucracy in my job – form after form after form.  Visiting the EPS – the national health care office – and the inefficiency and the four forms for a prescription – two of which you can take home with you as a receipt!  All these things are starting to really annoy me, but the one that takes the cake is the people’s rudeness.

Now, before you get upset with me, let me tell you that I am a sociology major – so I understand that what is rude in one culture is the norm in another culture.  There are differences in acceptable behavior and I totally get that.  For instance, I was on a walk with my students the other day and there was a car coming out of a car park and it was blocking the sidewalk while it waited to enter traffic.  I continued walking behind the car and on down the sidewalk.  The students meantime, waited for the car to enter traffic, so I had to wait for them to catch up.  They came up to me and both of them said, ‘How rude!’  I asked ‘Why?’  They replied, ‘Couldn’t you wait for the car to go?’  My immediate thought was to respond, “You call that rude!  What about all the people who bang into me on the street, step on my feet, and push past me without even acknowleding that I exist???  THAT’S rude!!”

That was when I knew that something was amiss, my feelings were entirely too visceral. As I have lived in Latin American countries, and visited may of the countries I haven’t lived in, I felt that I was somewhat of an expert on the culture.  But nothing prepared me for the Colombian culture.  I have alway considered the Latin American people very friendly and polite.  They have always been ready to go out of their way to help me and been very aware of the people around them. Here in Bogota, that is not the case.  I have been shoved aside by old and young alike for a place in line to enter the bus, to enter a building, and just to walk down the sidewalk.

I have worked for the military during my time here and it is the same.  Soldiers who are super polite in the US and very respectful shove past me and bang into me with no acknowledgement or apology.  And that is what really bothers me, even though they hit me, so they obviously feel me, there is no acknowledgement that they have entered into the body area of another human being.  And it is the same with the children.  They step on me and push past me as well.

I do realize that there has to be an explanation for this phenomenon.  I have decided (through my very little research) that this is because of the recent past.  Because of the time of Pablo Escobar (you can tell that my research is mostly watching Narcos!) when the government couldn’t protect them and their families.  During the time of FARC, when so many people had to leave their home for other areas of Colombia in a bid to stay safe, they could have no confidence in their government either.  During the FARC era they could not even trust their friends, and I believe that this carries over to today when they and their family are all they feel that they can take care of and worry about, so they must see that they are ok, that they get where they need to go where they need to go there.

Ok – so that is my synopsis of the situation!  Now to get on with the culture shock plan and move into acceptance and understanding of my new culture!





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