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8 Things That Will Completely Baffle Foreigners in Colombia

by Jay Munro May 21, 2015

1. The Lip Point

If a woman asks you to pass her a magazine that is in the room, and you ask her which one she means, she won’t point at it with her finger and say ‘that one’. That would be too easy.

She instead will pout at the magazine in an exaggerated manner and slightly flick her head back as she’s doing it. The first time you see it, it looks ever­-so-­slightly insouciant, as if you are her personal magazine­–fetching slave. Worry not, though; it’s just her way of politely asking you to pass her the magazine.

2. The Hello Blink

This is particularly prevalent among middle-­aged women. If you pass an acquaintance in the corridor at work and you say say hello, don’t be surprised if A) they don’t say hi back, B) they don’t wave, or C) they don’t smile. What they might do is blink at you ­with both eyes for slightly longer than a normal blink would last. The first time I saw this I thought the lady in question had an unfortunate tic. She didn’t. She was just saying hi.

3. Shop Frustration

You are being served by someone in a tienda. You give your order, the person turns away to prepare it, then someone else barges in and asks for something with more urgency than you did. At this point, the attendant forgets they were helping you, serves the interloper, and answers the 18 questions they ask before turning back to you. They aren’t being mean, they are just trying to be nice to everybody, albeit choosing an utterly chaotic and random way of doing so.

4. Si o No?

This will be used like we use a tag question, e.g. “It’s cold today, isn’t it?” However, when a Colombian uses it, they are almost daring you to say ‘no’ to a perfectly evident situation.

“That Hitler was a bit of a bad egg, yes or no?”

You really can’t argue with statements like that, so you have to go with the affirmative, rendering the ‘yes or no’ option they gave you redundant.

5. ‘No…’

“So, what did you do last night?”


This is just a standard way of saying ‘not much really’. It is a little disarming at first when someone responds to an open question in the negative, but that’s what they mean.

6. The Elbow Cheapskate

This is almost exclusively a female gesture, accompanied by a wry smile. If you ask a girl how her first date went last night, she might tap of the fingers of her bent elbow, signifying that her handsome suitor turned out to be a cheapskate. She was probably taken to the hot­dog stand instead of being whisked off to the fancy French restaurant she was hoping for.

7. Shopping Bags

Any trip to a Colombian supermarket will see you waiting at the checkout for the cashier to pack your bags (I’d much rather do it myself, it feels bourgeois to just stand there watching them do it). They will fasten the handles of your bags together intensely tightly, as if it contained some uranium that you spotted in the frozen foods section. What this means is that you can barely hold the bags (all eight of them) with a pinkie finger wedged into the small space they have allowed for you to carry them. When you get home your pinkie finger will be bright red and swollen and quite hurty.

Don’t worry – its not because they want to make you suffer. It’s because they don’t trust you not to steal anything and slip it into your bag. Feel better, now?

8. The Animal Hand

In Colombia there’s two ways of expressing height with hands. In Europe and the States, if you want to express how tall someone is, you will use your hand horizontally to show it. In Colombia, this is for animals. Human height is shown using the hand vertically. You can actually offend someone, because you might be insinuating that they are a pig or a dog.

Personally, tolerant as I try to be with all the quirky cultural differences like this, their system is flawed, (si o no?). How do you know whether someone’s height ends at the bottom or the top of your hand?


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