Habits from living in Colombia

Image: Unsplash/Pixabay

1. Living in Colombia made me less punctual

Being five, 10, even up to an hour late isn’t so uncommon while living in Colombia. Actually, it’s pretty standard behaviour, especially in Bogota. In this Andean city, there’s no better excuse than the traffic to blame your tardiness on. I was surprised how often I saw people on the Transmilenio bus system, talking to someone on their phone, letting them know they were just arriving, when actually they were still about 20 minutes away. After finding myself in situations where my usual punctuality left me waiting for upwards of an hour, I decided to become pretty relaxed about time, too. In Australia, it’s normal to arrive before the agreed meeting time, even 10 to 15 earlier. But now I find myself running late, making that familiar phone call saying I’m just around the corner, when actually I’m still on my way. I’ve also come to blaming it on the traffic, just like they do in Bogota.

2. Spanish words keep creeping into my vocabulary

After living in Colombia for a while, parts of the language found their way into my general vocabulary. When I was still getting the hang of Colombian Spanish, I would listen out for particular words and phrases which people said frequently, and attempted to emulate what I heard. Que bueno! I’d say. Chevere! I’d mimic. But by the time I was living in Colombia full-time, I had picked up a whole variety of colourful words. When I first went back to Australia for a holiday, I found a whole bunch of Spanish words and phrases would casually slip out of my mouth, including things like, Gracias, En Serio?, Buenas and Super!

3. I carry toilet paper with me everywhere

You just never know when you’re going to have to use a toilet while you’re out and about in Colombia. And, generally, unless you’re at a nice restaurant or a shopping centre, the toilets almost never have any toilet paper. This has always seemed strange to me because restaurants, kiosks and corner stores are always so concerned about providing enough serviettes – handing them out freely, even when you buy the smallest morsel of food and don’t even need the serviette. But somehow toilet paper is just so much more valuable and a lot harder to come by. I found that most of my female friends would always, always, carry a packet of tissues in their handbags. And even now, in Australia, I find myself packing Kleenex into my handbag, just in case I’m caught without.

4. I use my lips to point and give directions

I find I do this with close friends and family more than anything. Where’s the pepper grinder? My partner might say, and I’ll point him in the right direction with nothing but my mouth. I don’t even have to say anything. With nothing but what looks like duckface mixed with a gentle head nod, the pepper has been found and I didn’t even have to say a word. This is definitely one of the more ingrained habits I developed while living in Colombia.

5. I don’t mind correcting people when it comes to spelling ‘Colombia’

A whole campaign called It’s Colombia, Not Columbia was created to educated people about how to spell the country Colombia correctly.  While living in Colombia I was sure to correct my well-meaning friends who’d ask me: “How is Columbia?” or “It looks like you’re loving Columbia!” I’d have no qualms at all about telling them that it’s actually Colombia, not Columbia, along with a link to the campaign’s Facebook page. People still ask me about “Columbia” and I’m sure to warmly remind them about the correct spelling.

6. I stopped being so wasteful

In Colombia I found myself really caring about the people around me. People I didn’t know, people who had less than others. I saw people offer other people food on the street, sharing leftovers and buying small portions of food for those who would have otherwise gone hungry. Now, instead of just eating the perfect-looking pieces of fruit, or throwing out my leftovers from dinner, I’m less wasteful and more conscious about food. Wasting food isn’t an option. Instead of throwing food in the bin, I keep it to have the next day. I check use-by dates and scrape every last little bit out of avocados. Nothing goes unappreciated.

7. I’m all over oral hygiene

One thing that really surprised me while living in Colombia was the importance people place on their oral hygiene. Businesspeople will bring toothbrushes to the office so they can brush their teeth between meals, flossing is not just something you do when you remember, or when your tooth hurts, or the day before your dentist appointment, it’s something that is done religiously and with care and attention to detail. I wouldn’t be a nightly flosser if it wasn’t for Colombia.

8. I’m more patient

Like I’ve said in a previous post, living in Colombia and travelling through Colombia are two very different things. When you live in Colombia things move at a slower pace, bureaucracy can get the better of you, lines can feel like never-ending channels to the wrong information, Colombia moments are frequent and frustrating. But if living in Colombia has taught me anything, it’s patience. Patience for situations, differing opinions, ways of life. Patience ensures situations don’t get the better of us. Patience allows us to power on into the future with hope and enthusiasm. Patience makes us better people when faced with a challenge.

Have you developed any habits while living abroad? I want to hear about it. Share your experiences with me in the comments section.