Totally Inexplicable Things Colombians Love #2: Giving Unsolicited (Beauty) Advice

“Your hair looked better yesterday.”

“You should wear red more often.”

“That dress makes you look skinny.”

“Why don’t you send your resume to that [university/publication/school/business even though it’s totally unrelated to your skill set or current job]?”

“You don’t have a Colombian boyfriend? You should have a Colombian boyfriend.”

“Have you gained weight? It looks like you’ve gained weight.”

One thing I’ve noticed over the last year and a half is a particularly large cultural difference between here and home in terms of the focus on appearance, and the corollary social acceptability of making comments based on that appearance. And not just from your mother or grandmother, which might be expected. No, this is co-workers, students, friends of friends, the apartment doorman, people sitting next to you on the bus. Friends of mine here are often surprised when I explain to them that, in the U.S., telling someone — especially someone you don’t know — that their hair looks messy or their clothing is unflattering is generally considered, well, rude. Here, it’s a public service. But wouldn’t you want to know?

And yes, okay, I understand that logic when it comes to spinach between your teeth or leggings that become upsettingly see-through in sunlight, but we Americans do seem to draw the line pretty quickly as far as commenting on physical appearance is concerned. Compliments are allowed, but anything that remotely resembles a critique is best kept quiet. Most of us have, at some point, been the target of a well-timed maternal “If you don’t have something nice to say, don’t say anything at all.”

This isn’t to say that Colombians are rude — in fact, it’s quite the opposite. They tend to be much more complimentary about pretty much everything, pretty much all the time. Last year will undoubtedly be the high point in my life of being told that I’m beautiful, as it happened at least once every day. The thing is, though, most Colombians say “You look/are beautiful” like the rest of us say “How are you?” which does somewhat take away from the significance of the sentiment.

Disregarding overuse of complimentary adjectives, though, the fact is that things that are interpreted as rude, insulting or invasive by Americans are just normal here. It’s not an insult if it’s true, right? And why wouldn’t you want to know your hair looked better yesterday, so you can do it like that again? In a weird way, I do understand this logic — it comes from a place of wanting to be helpful, not cruel, even if that help does come out sounding like something that would be best left unsaid. Still, as someone who doesn’t pay much attention to my appearance beyond what earrings I’m wearing (always the most important decision of the day), it’s been strange adjusting to people feeling like they have the right to comment on how I look.

I think it’s partially tied to the whole American complex of independence: I can dress however the hell I want, goddammit, and you don’t get to say anything about it. I definitely grew up with a bit of this attitude, and it hasn’t gone away yet, nor do I want it to. But on top of that, I also have more than a bit of a strong feminist reaction to it — while telling people how they look and how they should look is liberally applied to all genders here, it’s far more often directed at women. This is linked to all sorts of other underlying factors about beauty standards and how women are judged here, but there does seem to be a general sentiment that this advice is more “useful” for women. Because we care more, or because our bodies are public property for commenting, or for a whole range of other reasons which I’m sure would make for a great master’s thesis. On a personal level, though, it’s mostly just annoying. Anyone who’s met me knows I’m not exactly the type who enjoys being told what to do, unless it’s coming from a really good editor, and I’m certainly not in the habit of taking advice from any grown adult who thinks that sparkly pink t-shirts designed for teenagers or leopard-print pants are an appropriate fashion choice.

Then again, this objection is probably why I don’t have a Colombian boyfriend. Which, as far as everyone is concerned, is almost certainly for the best.

 

Other Totally Inexplicable Things Colombians Love:

#3. Aguardiente

#4. Agua de Panela

#5. Inappropriate Uses of English

#6. Colombia’s Got Talent

#7. Horrifying Jeans

#8. Malls

#9. Wearing Heels Everywhere, All the Time

#10. ’80s Rock/Hair Metal Bands

Totally Inexplicable Things Colombians Love #3: Aguardiente

Many countries have their own unique, distinctive liquor (sake, ouzo, deadly Czech moonshine, and so on), and Colombia is no different. The ubiquitous drink of Andean Colombia — the one you’ll see in everyone’s hands at a night out at the bar or club, the one that makes an inevitable appearance at every party — is called aguardiente (literally, fire water). Aguardiente (or guaro, for short, if y’all are on a nickname basis) is a clear, anise-flavored liquid made of processed sugarcane. It’s produced either with sugar or without, and typically has an alcohol content a bit north or south of 25%. It is also heinously, ferociously disgusting.

So many ways to poison yourself…

I’ve just insulted probably about 94% of the Colombians I know by dissing their national intoxicant of choice, but I’m sorry. Sometimes you just have to tell it like it is, and aguardiente is nothing but horrible. Despite the best (or worst, depending on one’s perspective) efforts of my friends here, my assimilation does not extend to this terrible creation. As I’ve said on multiple occasions, there are only about four things I don’t like about Colombia: aguardiente is right at the top of that list.

The thing is, any relationship we could ever have was doomed from the start, as guaro made the fatal error of tasting like anise. I have never been able to understand why anyone would willingly ingest anything anise-flavored — from unappealing black licorice to the look-nicer-than-they-taste cookies a well-meaning family friend gives us around Christmas every year, it’s one of the easiest ways I can think of to ruin something that otherwise might be delicious. Want to make a cookie suddenly revolting? Add anise. Want to make me avoid a cake like the plague? Frost it with anise. Want to make me swear off drinking forever? Force me to drink aguardiente (or tequila, but that’s a different story).

My favorite is #3: “Because it’s perfect to drink alone or mixed.” OR NEVER.

So the taste is the primary hurdle, but it’s not the only one. The way drinking is done in most non-beer-based social situations here is that a group of people buys a bottle and then spends the rest of the night taking shots out of little plastic cups that are incredibly easy to accidentally crush in one’s hands. And this doesn’t just happen at bars with tables — if you go out to a club, you’ll see people strolling around passing out shots of guaro like it’s Anise Christmas. To me this seems both illogical and like an invitation for spillage, but nobody put me in charge, obviously. It’s kind of like being back in college, but instead of ending up with terrible-tasting alcohol by necessity or legality issues, we somehow get it by choice (again, definitely not mine). Having shots forced upon me is not necessarily my favorite way to consume alcohol, especially in crowded public spaces — having shots of something that seriously tests my gag reflex forced upon me is probably one of my least favorite ways.

I suspect that most Colombians have a Stockholm Syndrome-type relationship with guaro — since they started drinking it when they were around 15 years old, they’re just used to it by now. Or maybe some of them genuinely like anise — after all, it’s a flavor that shows up in liquors produced in various other countries around the globe, so it’s not like Colombians are the only crazy ones. I just happen to be stuck with them.

Why drink like an adult when you could be using a 1-liter juicebox instead?

The one benefit of the existence of guaro is being able to punk people with it. When I went home for Christmas in December, I brought a few juiceboxes of the stuff (oh yeah, they sell liquor in juiceboxes here. File that under “Awesome Things Colombians Do Correctly”) back with me as “gifts.” My poor, unsuspecting friends thought it was so nice of me to bring genuine Colombian drinking material all the way home for them — until they tried it. Curses were uttered, blame was cast, friendships were called into question, I did a lot of giggling. It was absolutely worth it, but it also didn’t involve me actually consuming any of it. So I guess I’m okay with aguardiente as long as it’s not entering my digestive system.

The point is, if I ever manage to overcome my intense loathing of hot weather (unlikely) and move to the coast, at least 30 percent of my justification will be because they drink more rum there. Now that’s a liquid pastime I support.

Other Totally Inexplicable Things Colombians Love:

#4. Agua de Panela

#5. Inappropriate Uses of English

#6. Colombia’s Got Talent

#7. Horrifying Jeans

#8. Malls

#9. Wearing Heels Everywhere, All the Time

#10. ’80s Rock/Hair Metal Bands

Food Friday: Granadilla!

I’d been saving this one until all of my visitors from home had come and gone, because I didn’t want to ruin the utterly unique experience of meeting (and eating) a granadilla. Now that I’m here all by my lonesome, I can finally enlighten the rest of the non-Colombia-visiting world about the very weird joys of the granadilla.

See? They look perfectly normal like this!

I’ve waxed poetic before about the plethora of amazing fruits that Colombia has to offer — the granadilla is one of these exotic delights (well, they’re not exotic here. People walk around all the time here eating them like they’re apples). On the outside, they’re pretty unremarkable — slightly oval, with a mottled orange skin that makes them look like a not-too-distant citrus cousin. Like a citrus, you can also poke your thumb right through the peel — and that’s where the similarities end. That’s where it starts getting weird.

As soon as you pop your thumb through the skin of the granadilla, you notice something peculiar about it: the peel gives way in tectonic plates of chunks, like Styrofoam. Directly under the thin peel, the inside of the rind is white, fluffy and aerated, as if it were designed to keep the innards safe on long, transcontinental journeys. But that isn’t the weird part. Those innards are what has spooked every person new to Colombia — hell, I even thought they were inedibly bizarre the first time I saw them.

grana-fingers

AHHH! Alien food!

The inside of a granadilla — the part you eat– is a slimy, dark cluster of seeds surrounded by clear goo that bears a strong resemblance to frog eyes, or what I imagine alien eggs look like. And as if that weren’t bad enough, those gooey seeds are enclosed in a layer of little white tentacles, like baby stalactites or ghost fingers, that seem to serve no biological purpose other than to freak people out. There is no way this is not alarming the first time you encounter it. It does not look like something that is meant to be consumed by humans, much less eaten in a casual fashion while walking along the street. And “eaten” is a generous description, since by necessity (unless you have a fork), it’s pretty much mandatory to stick your face into the opened shell of the granadilla and slurp out the seeds in the loudest manner possible. This is infinitely more satisfying than it should be.

People sometimes talk about things being “an acquired taste.” This usually confuses me, since they’re often referring to things that I find so revolting I don’t understand why anyone would want to acquire the taste for them. Granadillas, however, are a perfect example of an acquired taste. Once you get past the initial shock of slurping down something that looks like it’s about to spawn tiny amphibians at any moment, you realize that the gooey insides actually have a nice, light, not-too-sweet flavor that’s a refreshing break from all the rice we’re eating all the time here.

Some of us really, honestly like these things!
[photo courtesy of the lovely Jamie Wiebe, who tried a granadilla once and decided that was enough]

Plus, eating fake frog eyes is kind of fun, in a spooky, Halloween-themed-food kind of way. And then there’s the insistence of my Colombian friends that the best way to loosen the seeds (a necessary task before opening the fruit), rather than banging the granadilla against your hand a few times like I do, is to whack it against a certain, very specific spot on the back of your head — or, more amusingly, your friend’s heads. Any food that combines tasty flavor, weird appearance, the possibility of alarming my friends and family members AND the potential to hit my friends in the head is a winner in my book!

The 25-Step Guide to Successfully Taking a Bus in Bogotá

  1. Walk to the intersection of the two largest streets near you. Hope that the bus you need will conveniently run along one of these streets.
  2. Every 15 seconds or so, turn your head from one direction to the other. You wouldn’t want to miss the bus!
  3. Decide you’re at least 60% sure the bus you need is green. Pay attention to all of the buses, but pay extra-close attention to the green ones.
  4. Squint frantically at the sign in the front window of each approaching bus, trying desperately to read as many of the neighborhoods as possible before it goes hurtling past you at pedestrian-killing speed. Attempt not to fall into the street while reading the aforementioned signs. Succeed at this, more or less.
  5. Get impatient after about ten minutes, decide to settle for a bus that passes even close to where you’re going.
  6. See a bus that has your destination in its sign. The bus looks especially rattletrap and scary. Let it pass.
  7. Take this previous bus as a positive sign that there must be other buses heading in that direction. Feel confident about your decision to wait for one that at least appears to have functioning brakes.
  8. Wait.
  9. Wait some more.
  10. Start to wish you’d just gone with the first damn bus when it came by. It couldn’t be that bad.
  11. Wonder whether the buses have all been rerouted today for some inexplicable reason. This is a perfectly reasonable hypothesis, since it happens all the time.
  12. See the bus, finally! It says the neighborhood you need! It is also red. Try to figure out why you were so certain it was green.
  13. Hail the bus, which screeches to a stop about 20 feet in front of you. Scamper to it and swing yourself onto the stairs. Brace yourself for the bus to lurch back into traffic as soon as your second foot leaves the ground. Try not to fall back out the open door.
  14. Catch the strap of your bag as you push through the turnstile. Piss off the woman standing on the stairs behind you as you try to wriggle it free. Hope she doesn’t fall back out the open door.
  15. Give your fare to the small child sitting in the front seat, on the other side of the glass partition. She is probably the driver’s daughter. She is probably about eight years old. She should definitely be in school right now.
  16. Miraculously find a seat next to the aisle. Proceed to get smacked in the shoulder or face by the bags or arms or bodies of every single person who passes by for the rest of the ride. Wonder why spatial awareness is so difficult for everyone.
  17. Get stuck in a horrible traffic jam about ten blocks from where you boarded the bus. Fidget anxiously in your seat as it takes half an hour to go four more blocks. Hope your iPod doesn’t die.
  18. Check your phone for any scolding text messages. Reflect on the fact that your friends are probably going to stop hanging out with you at some point because of how goddamn long it takes you to get everywhere. Accept that you can only blame your chronic lateness on the transportation for so long before people expect you to start learning from your mistakes.
  19. Conclude that you have yet to learn from your mistakes. Try not to think about that Einstein quote about repetition and insanity.
  20. Breathe a sigh of relief as your bus finally passes through the green light to the sweet, sweet freedom of the open road.
  21. Resist the urge to strangle something when it becomes clear that the open road freedom only lasts for three blocks before it turns back into a tangled, cacophonous catastrophe devoid of any recognizable road rules or human decency all over again.
  22. For the next ten minutes, devote yourself to gnawing on your thumbnail as your bus slowly crawls toward an intersection with a major, TransMilenio-containing road.
  23. Elbow your way past the rappers or guitar players or ladies selling candy or whoever is currently entertaining/asking the passengers for money and leap off the bus as soon as it crosses the road.
  24. Take the TransMilenio instead.
  25. Arrive forty minutes after you said you would. Consider this to be a fairly acceptable time frame and, in fact, a minor victory.

Totally Inexplicable Things Colombians Love #4: Agua de Panela

Every culture (and every individual within that culture) has its own methods for dealing with illness, or even just the common cold. Some people swear by garlic cloves, others resort to endless bowls of chicken soup or other kinds of comforting broth, while still others just pop NyQuil until they’ve convinced themselves they feel better. I’m personally terrible at being sick — my two coping mechanisms, in order, are total denial and then eating whole oranges while drinking incessant cups of herbal tea with honey until I can’t think about citrus anymore. It may not be the most medically advanced strategy, but I haven’t died yet, so I have no evidence that it isn’t working.

I’ve only had a cold once so far in Colombia, and thank god, because while I may have the constitution to deal with Colombian gripa, I’m definitely not strong enough to handle the universally accepted cure: agua de panela.

Let’s start with the basics. Panela is a solid form of sugarcane, produced primarily in the coffee region of Colombia and sold in square blocks in pretty much any market across the country. It functions as a sugar substitute, since it essentially is just a block of unrefined whole cane sugar. It’s delicious in coffee, but less so when it’s the main ingredient of a drink.

Those of you who took Spanish in high school may have figured out by now that agua de panela is exactly what it sounds like: panela water. There’s nothing more to it — just a block of panela dissolved in warm water and served like a piping hot cup of sweet tea. I’m sure both Southerners and butterflies would delight in this beverage, but as someone who prefers my sweet drinks to involve fruit, it’s not really, dare I say, my cup of tea.

But that sure puts me in the minority here. Agua de panela is nationally accepted as the most effective and highly recommended cure — or preventative measure — for the common cold. It’s cold outside? Agua de panela. You’re coughing? Agua de panela. It’s 11 a.m.? Why not have some agua de panela?

Given how much soda Colombians typically consume, I guess I shouldn’t be surprised by the national preference for drinking sugar water at the drop of a hat. Still, the next time I start sneezing, you can find me in a corner with my tea and oranges — hold the butterfly nectar, please.

Other Totally Inexplicable Things Colombians Love:

#5. Inappropriate Uses of English

#6. Colombia’s Got Talent

#7. Horrifying Jeans

#8. Malls

#9. Wearing Heels Everywhere, All the Time

#10. ’80s Rock/Hair Metal Bands

Colombian Weeks Have Eight Days

Cultural differences are one of those things you can’t really be aware of until they cause problems for you. That is, we take our own cultural norms for granted, and often only notice changes when they confuse or challenge us. I’m talking here about minor things, of course — not the differences that are immediately apparent, physically or otherwise. No, these are little things, like the fact that people here don’t eat much for dinner, or that 90% of the time, you’re better off saying “señora” instead of “señorita.” These are the things nobody explains to you — the trial-and-error differences you’re left to discover on your own.

There are tons of these little peculiarities hidden all over here like malicious Easter eggs, just waiting for me to discover them by screwing something up or misunderstanding someone. One of my favorite Colombianisms (and by “favorite,” I mean “kind of makes me twitch violently every time someone says it”) is their method of counting — or miscounting — days.

Let’s say it’s Friday, and you’re making plans with a friend to go out dancing next weekend. Those of us who pledge allegiance to English as our first language would usually say something like, “Let’s go next Friday,” or “in a week” (I don’t know what you folks across the various ponds say, but I’m going to assume it’s something similar for the sake of having backup, okay? Okay). These are logical, relatively clear ways to denote time — and, most importantly, they don’t involve counting.

No such luck here. Your average Colombian, when attempting to make plans in the same time frame (although let’s be honest, your average Colombian wouldn’t be planning something a week ahead of time. But give me some willful suspension of disbelief), would say, “Nos vemos en ocho días (See you in eight days).”

WHAT. What, even.

Let’s talk my least favorite subject for a moment: math. If today is Friday, there are six full days between now and next Friday. FULL DAYS. Therefore, next Friday is the seventh day, yes? We’re all still together here? One of my Colombian friends tried to defend this mathematical nonsense by explaining that the full saying is “Hoy en ocho días” (“Today, in eight days”). Disregarding the grammatical issues, I’ve never encountered any other place that counts whatever fraction of the current day is left as a full day when planning things.

And it gets better. As part of my counterargument, tentatively entitled “Where The Hell Do You Get That Extra Day?!” I tried to clarify this nonsense. If you’re doing something tomorrow, I asked, do you say “in two days?” Of course not, answered my friend. Two days isn’t the same as tomorrow.

I KNOW THIS. All I want to know is, at what point in the week, then, does that extra day show up? Because as far as I can tell, there are only seven scheduled days in Colombian weeks, just the same as at home. Apparently this illogical counting only applies in increments of weeks. And don’t even get me started on how two weeks apparently contain 15 days. I just….can’t. And I won’t. I’m going to keep counting in full weeks, thanks, because at least that’s a concept that seems to translate across borders.

I can only assume that this chronological miseducation is actually why Colombians are late so often. How can they be expected to arrive on time when they don’t even know what day it is?

Totally Inexplicable Things Colombians Love #5: Inappropriate Uses of English

I’m generally against clothing with writing or slogans on it, since 97% of them tend to be brand names (I see you, Hollister. Trust me, you only have your company name printed all over those t-shirts), Busted-Tees-style statements with an overinflated sense of their own cleverness (“Keep talking, I’m fluent in stupid”) or just blatantly idiotic or offensive things that reflect terribly on the wearer (something something your boyfriend etc). Pretty much the only acceptable words to put on clothes, in my opinion, are the names of bands, sports teams, events or geographic locations. A journalist who’s into facts, how shocking.

I recognize that this isn’t a preference I share with the majority of the American public (especially the under-18 cohort), and it definitely isn’t one I have in common with the Colombian public. People here are way into t-shirts and other clothing with words or sentences written on them. But not just any string of words — they’re almost always in English, and they’re equally as often misspelled or just lacking any grammatical sense whatsoever.

There’s the lady on the bus in a t-shirt that just says “Love Smile,” “He said he would never” scrawled across the back of a teenage girl’s hoodie (never what? he would never what?!) or, my recent favorite, the guy on the TransMilenio with a “New York” t-shirt that said “Time Square” in at least three different places. And don’t even get me started on the signs and promotional material for companies — I want to grab a paintbrush every time I pass the beauty salon a few blocks away from me named “Beauty Stile.”

I recognize that the fact that I’m a knee-jerk grammar nerd who has to bite my tongue to keep from correcting people in conversation has a lot to do with why I notice these little details, but I’m also just kind of baffled by the whole concept of it. I get that people may not notice that things are misspelled (like the TimeS Square dude) or maybe they don’t care that the sentence on their shirt doesn’t actually make any sense, but I’m sort of unclear on what the market is for clothing splattered with nonsensical English words. Why not buy a t-shirt that has an actual reasonable sentence in Spanish, or, better yet, clothing without any words at all? Better to be understood in no languages than misunderstood in two.

Other Totally Inexplicable Things Colombians Love:

#6. Colombia’s Got Talent

#7. Horrifying Jeans

#8. Malls

#9. Wearing Heels Everywhere, All the Time

#10. ’80s Rock/Hair Metal Bands

Food Friday: Chontaduro

So this is more or less the evil twin of my cholado post. When I arrived in Cali, one of the first things my friends living there asked me was, “Have you tried chontaduro yet?” Since they were asking with a tone of voice that implied less the sharing of a really exciting secret than some serious schadenfreude, I was already a bit suspicious. But when in Rome, etc.

who knew the knife wasn't the scariest thing on that plate?

They look innocuous enough, right? They could totally be plum cousins!

At least I had braced myself, though, so the next day, when one of our gracious hosts came into the room I was sharing with my two other visiting Bogotá friends with a full plate of the shiny red fruits, I was ready. Or so I thought.

I was ready for something weird, for sure, but at first they didn’t look that strange. Chontaduro, which grow on palm trees and go by different names all across South America, have shiny red skin and are about the size of a large strawberry or one of the mini plums here that I love so much. So far, so good. Normal-looking, normal color, nothing deeply frightening. Maybe it’s not so bad, after all.

Instead of biting into the little beasts, though, you peel them — I’m not sure if the rind is edible at all for anyone besides birds, but in Cali at least, they don’t eat it. And that’s when things get a little stranger. Since it bore a passing resemblance to other small pitted fruits, I was expecting something like a peach or plum to emerge from that bright red skin. Wrong. The innards of a chontaduro are orange, flaky and fibrous — they look kind of like a tiny, round sweet potato with a big pit in the middle. And that’s more or less how they taste, too, except without the “sweet” part.

otherwise I'm going outside and corralling a few bees

Wait, where did the honey go? There’s no way I’m getting through this plate without it!

That’s right. Chontaduro are a fruit that taste like the terrible cousin of a potato (if they tasted like potatoes, you can believe I’d be eating a pound of them every week). I don’t even know why they bother calling them fruit, since they seem much closer to a starch like yuca than a juicy fruit. In Cali, they eat them with salt and honey, which makes the taste marginally better, until you realize that you’re essentially just covering it with enough honey to hide the flavor of the fruit itself. Once I took one bite, I realized why my friends had been smirking when they inquired about my chontaduro experience.

Maybe it’s an acquired taste, since most caleños don’t seem to mind it at all, or maybe they place more importance in its alleged power as an aphrodisiac (can someone explain to me why all the most disgusting foods — with the exception of chocolate — are the ones reputed to be aphrodisiacs?), but either way, I’m somehow missing the appeal of the whole thing. Even after eating a whole plate of them, because I’d rather eat some gross stuff covered with honey than be rude.

Still, though, the next time I have an opportunity to enjoy the culinary delights of Cali, I think I’ll be sticking with cholado.

whatever the opposite of 'nom' is, that's this photo

One bite down, ten more (and a plateful of salt) to go….

Totally Inexplicable Things Colombians Love: #6. Colombia’s Got Talent!

Yeah, yeah, talent shows are popular everywhere. The whole continent of Europe is freaking out right now about the awesomely tacky Eurovision Song Contest, the vastly more popular British version of ‘X Factor’ has survived for a baffling eight seasons and apparently 132 million people actually gave a shit about the most recent finale of ‘American Idol.’ (who the hell are you people, exactly?)

But maybe with the exception of Eurovision (which doesn’t really count anyways, since it’s an annual international event rather than just your average TV show. Also, it is a delight), these kinds of shows are not universal. That’s what knowing your audience is all about: you’ve got your middle-America housewives or whoever those 132 million people are; the nation of teenaged dancers and their moms who drool over every step on ‘So You Think You Can Dance’; and of course my former roommates and I, who religiously watched ‘The Voice’ based entirely on the fabulosity of Christina Aguilera’s wardrobe and how much we love Beverly McClellan (seriously. The lady is an American treasure). The point is, to each his own, right?

Well, maybe when it comes to preferred types of empanadas, but not regarding the monolith of entertainment that is ‘Colombia Tiene Talento‘ (obviously, ‘Colombia’s Got Talent’). I am legitimately convinced that everyone in the country, from my first-graders to Supreme Court justices, watches this show. It is inescapable in the way that soccer matches are in most Latin American countries (and sometimes here, depending on the teams). It seems to be on every single night of the week, apparently on every single channel. Everyone talks about it. And this goes beyond water-cooler chat: you’re just expected to know who they’re talking about when they mention “that girl who sang the opera song” or “those brothers who are acrobats.” I’m a little skeptical that a country the size of Colombia actually has enough talent to keep the show viable like this, but I guess everyone does define talent differently.

I personally don’t have much use at all for reality competitions, with the notable exceptions of the aforementioned ‘Voice’ (some rad ladies and essentially an excuse to stare at Adam Levine for two hours), ‘Top Chef’ (straight-up food porn and the occasional Bourdain snark) and the barely-controlled madness that is the judging panel of ‘America’s Best Dance Crew,’ but if I stay here long enough, I may just have to start pretending to care about some little 10-year-old from Caldas and her spot-on J. Lo impression.

Or, worse, I might actually start caring. Get the intervention banner ready for me, just in case.

 

Other Totally Inexplicable Things Colombians Love:

#7. Horrifying Jeans

#8. Malls

#9. Wearing Heels Everywhere, All The Time

#10. ’80s Rock/Hair Metal Bands

Totally Inexplicable Things Colombians Love: #7. Horrifying Jeans

Okay, so I’m a bit biased in this regard, since I’m kind of a jeans purist. My ideal denim is dark, doesn’t make me look like a child trying to wear her mother’s too-long pants, and doesn’t have any weird shit on the pockets. They’re pants, not a decoration — or so I thought until I came to Colombia. Here, jeans look less like serviceable, utilitarian pants than an overactive jewelry or tattoo designer’s rhinestone dreamscape.

Now, I’m not saying that Colombians have cornered the market on inadvisable jeans. I’ve seen a lot of poor denim choices in my life. I’ve been to Europe. I’ve walked past bebe stores. I lived through the ’90s, for god’s sake. But the “styles” here really go above and beyond normal tackiness. Looking for acid-washed, light blue jeans ripped in like five places? Trying to bring back the bad old days with whiskered creases on the unflattering part of your thighs? How about pants with pockets so bedazzled it probably hurts to sit down? Or, better yet, let’s just make most women’s jeans without any back pockets at all, because being able to put shit in your pockets ISN’T THE MAIN POINT of these pants and really the best reason for the existence of jeans. It is almost impossible to locate a pair of normal, non-floral, non-sparkly, 5-pocket pants in this country — in fact, the only places I’ve been able to find them are international chains like Zara or Bershka, which is kind of cheating.

Now normally we ladies are the ones who have to suffer the indignities of unreasonable denim designs, but here they are equal-opportunity offenders. In fact, I think the worst jeans I’ve seen may have been men’s. They do, at least, have pockets, but they apparently have taken all the pockets that were supposed to go on the back of the women’s designs and stuck them on the men’s in the strangest possible locations: near the knees, in front, stacked on top of the back pockets that are already there. Men’s jeans here add zippers in the oddest places, like they wanted to be those zip-off cargo pants that turn into shorts but lost the courage at the last moment and decided just to zip about four inches diagonally across the thigh for no apparent reason. I don’t think I know a single person who’s ever bemoaned the lack of a conveniently-placed thigh pocket on his or her pants, but clearly I haven’t spent enough time here. And let’s not forget those trousers clearly influenced by the Ed Hardy School of Design, with multicolored birds of prey, weird tattoo-style lettering and yes, even the occasional bedazzlement.

Usually I’m glad that I’m a poor volunteer primarily because it prevents me from constant shopping and the subsequent constant debt. Even if I had all the money in the world, though, it wouldn’t convince me to buy a pair of jeans at most stores here. My broke ass has been proudly sparkle-free for 23 1/2 years now, and I fully intend to keep it that way, thank you very much.

Other Totally Inexplicable Things Colombians Love:

#8. Malls

#9. Wearing Heels Everywhere, All The Time

#10. ’80s Rock/Hair Metal Bands