Just as most other countries around the world, Colombia has its own unique culture, and part of that culture includes a long list of unique and interesting homegrown manners. For the cumulative ~3 years I have lived in Colombia, I have been able to distinguish a fairly good list of frequent and commonly observed manners among Colombians. Today, I’d like to share five of those with YOU!
1. Colombians have and use frequent and diverse hand gestures for almost every situation
Colombians are very expressive when they are speaking, and hand gestures only make conversations with Colombians more exciting and entertaining. There are hand gestures used to mean everything from “you’re out of luck” to “it’s packed” to “bullying,” “stingy,” “drinking,” “that’s bad,” “posh,” “let’s eat,” and more.
The more time you spend talking to Colombians in Spanish, the more hand gestures you’ll observe and quite possibly pick up and find yourself using later!
2. Colombians generally avoid opening foreign refrigerators
When I first arrived to Bogota in 2008, one of the first things I was told before I visited a Colombian in their own home was that under no circumstances should I open her refrigerator. I was explained that in Colombia it is considered very rude to enter and rummage about in a kitchen that is not your own, and even more so in a refrigerator not your own.
3. When Colombians extend an invitation, it means they are paying
Very opposite of customs in the United States and the United Kingdom, when someone extends you an invitation for dinner, lunch, coffee, onces, etc… it generally means they are going to pay. This custom was a bit hard to get used to; especially with people I had just met. Whereas in the United States a good friend might invite you to dinner every now and then, it’d be out of the ordinary for someone you’ve just met to invite you to eat. Not in Colombia, though. This is just another example of the famous friendliness of Colombians.
*To show you’re grateful, you’ll likely want to reciprocate the invitation at a later date, as is customary in Colombia!
4. Colombians are very clean eaters
In Colombia, table manners and staying clean while you eat are very important. It’s very rare to see someone eating with their hands in Colombia, and many Colombians find it offensive if you eat with your hands. Even french fries, fish sticks, chicken fingers, and fresh fruits (often eaten with your hands in the United States and United Kingdom), are eaten with silverware. The only exception to this (that I’ve seen) is fried chicken, which is eaten with plastic gloves to avoid getting your hands dirty and sticky.
5. Women give kisses and men give handshakes
Most people know that kisses on the cheeks are a common greeting in most of Latin America. In Colombia, though, kisses on the cheeks are generally only used as a greeting between women or between women and men who are more than acquaintances. And, contrary to other Latin American countries, in Colombia this type of greeting consists of one kiss given right cheek-to-right cheek.
If you are a man greeting a man, you’ll want to greet with a handshake or even just a verbal greeting. If you are very close friends, you may give a firm “man pat” on the back or a “strong hug,” but kisses on the cheeks are not often given between men.
And, In any case where you are greeting someone you are not familiar with or who is only a recent acquaintance, you’ll want to rely on verbal greetings.
I hope you’ve learned something new about Colombians, and I hope reading about these manners will help you better “fit in” and understand Colombian culture during any travels in Colombia or time spent with Colombians abroad!
Until next time,
Paige M. Poole
About the author:
“Paige M. Poole is an Alabamian and traveler at heart who has settled, for now, in Barranquilla, Colombia, and earns her living as an English professor at the Instituto de Idiomas (Language Institute) at la Universidad del Norte (University of the North). When not teaching English, she enjoys blogging, traveling, relaxing on the beach, and spending time with her partner and two cats, Milo and Sophie. You can see more of Paige’s traveling experiences in her personal blog www.trotamunda.wordpress.com
- 10 Ways to Describe Colombians (www.uncovercolombia.com)
- Why Colombia? (www.uncovercolombia.com)
- 10 Reasons I like Colombia (www.uncovercolombia.com)
- Colombian Slang Part III (www.uncovercolombia.com)