It’s funny, the other day a Colombian man posted a question in the ExPats in Colombia Facebook group. He asked why it was that Brits in Colombia always asked people – who were clearly standing in a queue – if they were queuing. He said it had happened to him a number of times and he found it odd that someone would ask something where the answer is so obvious.
The first thing to note is the obvious cultural difference here. British people are good at queuing and waiting their turn. In fact, stand at a bar in Britain and it’s not uncommon for someone to insist that you be served first. Colombians, on the other hand, are only vaguely aware of the notion of queuing… and frankly, why would you wait your turn when it’s much quicker to push in front? Some Colombians might argue that queuing up is an example of ‘dar papaya’ – which conveys the idea of foolishly giving someone the opportunity to take advantage of you. Some people are apparently so keen to be perceived as ‘vivos’ (smart) rather than ‘bobos’ (silly)* that they will unashamedly elbow their way to the front of a queue.
To state the obvious, it shows that our cultures affect our behaviour. We British are often so concerned about causing offence that we will go to great lengths to avoid saying what we really mean. If I send a report to my boss for feedback and he says “it’s a good attempt” or “there are just a few things I’d change”, what he really means is that it’s a load of rubbish and I need to start from scratch. If someone asks me what I thought of a film their brother directed and I say it was “interesting”, what I really mean is “well, that’s 2 hours of my life I won’t be getting back”. You get the idea.
So, in the context of queuing in Colombia, it’s possible that we Brits ask for confirmation about whether someone’s in the queue because we want to avoid at all costs the risk of offending someone by inadvertently jumping the queue. I would actually argue that in Colombia, you can never really be sure whether someone’s standing in a queue or not. Many a time here I have stood behind people who were standing in a marked queuing area and then wouldn’t move once they reached the front. When I then asked if they were in the queue, the answer was ‘no’. It seems that Colombians love loitering around queues when they’re not actually queuing, but don’t like to queue when they’re supposed to.
Another curious thing you’ll experience after living in Colombia for a while is having the person in front of you in a queue you’ve just joined (in a bank, for example) ask you to save their place while they go out and do something else. Pretty cheeky, but it seems to be an accepted practice over here.
Overall – and I’ll say it again – Colombians don’t have much regard for queues. It was only yesterday that I was in the bakery at the counter about to pay for some empanadas, when a woman behind me reached over me to hand over some cash and ask for a coke. The sales assistant saw me roll my eyes and thankfully made a point of giving me my change first. It’s just one of those things you have to get used to. There are lots of things like that in Colombia.
*El vivo vive del bobo is a well-known saying in Colombia, and roughly translates as ‘Smart people thrive from the stupidity of others’.
Are there any annoying or ‘interesting’ quirks you’ve encountered in Colombia? Tell me about them in the comments section!