Getting a manicure is cheap in Bogota – around $4 dollars at most places. One afternoon, I was browsing on Facebook when I saw an indignant post from my friend Emily, who also lives in Bogota:
“I just went to the salon to get a manicure and they asked me if I wanted my mustache waxed!! I do NOT have a mustache!!! [angry-face]”.
(It’s true. She doesn’t.)
I’ve been through exactly the same thing here in Bogota, and so will you if you’re a woman. I’ll be getting my hair cut and the hairdresser will ask if I’d like her to remove my moustache for an extra $3,000 pesos. Once, I was just accompanying my boyfriend while HE got a haircut. There I was, on their sofa reading, minding my own business when someone came up to me and asked (loudly) if I wanted to get my moustache waxed while I was waiting! I could feel the daggers shooting from my eyes as I narrowed them and responded: “Do I really have a moustache?” She approached me, like one of those cartoon detectives with a magnifying glass that goes right up to the TV screen, and examined my top lip. I raised my eyebrows and, sensing my hostility, she backed off giving a noncommittal shrug.
Another time I was in front of the mirror at home brushing my hair when a female family member came and stood beside me, and said: “Parece que tienes bigote.” (Translation: “It looks like you have a moustache”).
“Gracias…” was my deadpan reply.
Later on, I explained to her that, in my country (England), it’s rude to comment on someone’s facial hair/spots/weight.
“Oh, but I didn’t say you have a moustache! I just said it looks like you have a moustache..”
These are cultural differences that all foreigners need to adapt to in Colombia. If you have spots, are balding, have crooked teeth, are overweight, are very skinny, are very tall, have neglected to wax your top lip, people will comment on it. Not in a malicious way though. It’s like they think they’re doing you a favor by pointing out your flaws (just in case you hadn’t noticed them) so that you’ll be motivated to fix or hide them.
Remember those Agony Aunt columns in teen magazines, where an anxious 14-year-old writes in saying they hate their spots and that they’ve tried everything? And the Agony Aunt replies that they shouldn’t worry about it, that most likely no-one else has even noticed them? Well, Colombians HAVE noticed them, and they’re also talking about them with their sister, aunt, mother-in-law, best friend and boyfriend’s cousin on the phone after you’ve gone.
But it’s not just Colombian culture. I’ve lived in Argentina and Mexico, and it was the same. In Argentina, I was once advised by a concerned, middle-aged lady in an elevator (who was evidently zooming in on my spots) to eat less chocolate. I half-grimaced-half-smiled, but inside, 19-year-old me was screaming “I’VE HAD SPOTS SINCE I WAS 13, IT’S NOT THE CHOCOLATE!!!!“. When I was living in Mexico, I gained a bit of weight and my colleagues remarked, “You know what? You’re fatter!”. 23-year-old me considered this, and came to the conclusion “meh… who cares? Chicken in mole sauce is sooo worth it!”
Eventually, I developed a thick skin. I’m 32 and I still get spots. I don’t wax my top lip. And yes, I’ve gained 10lbs since moving to Bogota. Who cares? I know Colombians care and I know they mean well, but I’m ok! I’m fine with my barely-there lady-tache, I have a good foundation for my skin and I love eating Buffalo Wings in teriyaki sauce. So I’ve decided: the next time I’m in a salon here in Bogota and someone offers to help me out with my moustache, I shall adopt my most severe Salvador Dalí expression and reply: “No thank you, I’ve been working hard on this moustache and I’m actually quite proud of it.”