Only Gringos Wear Shorts

And Other Cultural Differences Noted in Colombia

After having spent some time on the coast and now in a major metropolitan city in Colombia, here are some cultural differences I've noticed:

1.  Only gringos wear shorts.

Well, and kids.  Despite the weather creeping up to 90 degrees by mid afternoon, I've noticed that very few locals wear shorts.  Most wear jeans or slacks and don't seem to even break a sweat while I'm over here in my quick dry travel shorts sweating my cajones off.  

Gringo for scale.

Gringo for scale.

2.  Few people on the metro look at their phones.

Whether this is a cultural difference or to prevent theft, I noticed today that less than 10% of fellow metro riders were on their phones.  Compared to Chicago, that's significantly less.  On the CTA, I felt like at least 80-90% of riders spent the time emailing/Facebooking/texting.

3.  Chivalry is alive and well in Medellin.

Also noted on the metro, men don't sit while women and children stand.  While occasionally I saw men in Chicago give up their seats for women (and really mostly for elderly or super pregnant ladies), this was totally normal on the metro rides we took through Medellin's city center today.  I even saw a man lead his girlfriend onto the train and all the way to a seat by her hand as if whisking her across the dance floor.

4.  Colombian men like cologne.

Not necessarily a bad thing, but something I noticed, particularly in tight spaces like the elevator leading up to our 15th floor airbnb apartment.  

5.  Speaking Spanish and speaking like a local are entirely different things.

I double majored in Spanish in school and studied abroad in Spain.  Despite not using my Spanish everyday, I still like to think I communicate well for a gringa.  

That said, there are so many different terms and "dichos" (turns of phrase) that are specific to Colombia.  "Man," usually "hombre," is "man" here.  "Woman" is "vieja" regardless of her age.  "Kids," which everywhere else would be "niños," is "chinos." 

Despite the switches being disorienting, I do love some of the local sayings.

A sign seen at a local museum exhibit on food.

A sign seen at a local museum exhibit on food.

This one's my favorite.  Literally translating to, "Who ordered chicken?" this is something a group of men in a bar might say as a hot girl walked by.  For us, it's the equivalent of, "Oh look who's fancy!"  Hilarious.

A sign seen at a local museum exhibit on food.

A sign seen at a local museum exhibit on food.

This one's also great.  It literally means "Papaya served, papaya eaten."  At our hostel in Cartagena, the locals say the phrase "dar la papaya," or "give the papaya."  It basically means that if you give people the opportunity to screw you, they will.  So if a tourist is walking down the street at night with their phone out and it gets stolen, well... what did they expect?  Don't give the papaya.   


What other differences should we look out for?  What have you noticed when traveling through South America or abroad?