What does the Colombian culture have that expats love?

Why are expatriates around the world drawn to Colombia? It’s not just the breathtaking landscapes and the tropical climate but the vibrant Colombian culture itself—a kaleidoscope of colors, sounds, and traditions that pulses through the heart of South America. 

Understanding the local customs and traditions is necessary for anyone planning to move or invest in Colombia. Beyond just adapting to a new environment, grasping these cultural nuances can profoundly enrich your experience, allowing you to integrate and form meaningful connections within the community. 

Join us as we unveil why Colombian culture is not just about experiencing a new way of life but about transforming everyday moments into extraordinary ones. Whether you’re seeking a change in scenery or a new adventure, Colombia offers a warm welcome with a rich cultural tapestry that invites you to be part of its story.

Daily life and customs

Everyday routines and social norms

Life in Colombia is a vibrant dance, marked by the harmonious blend of its cultural rhythms and the everyday routines that make up the local way of life. When you enter the world of Colombian culture, you step into a realm where social interactions and daily activities paint a lively picture of this nation’s soul

Colombians start early, with the streets bustling as local cafés fill with people enjoying their morning ‘tinto’ (a small, strong cup of black coffee). Work often begins around 8 AM, but the people’s warmth and slower pace of life during the day stands out. Lunch is a social affair, usually the largest meal of the day, often shared with family or friends and followed by a ‘siesta’ in more relaxed locales.

In the evenings, Colombians enjoy a vibrant social life; it’s common to see families and friends gathering in local parks, plazas, or at home, sharing meals and stories well into the night. Social interactions are characterized by close personal contact, frequent touching, and a warm, direct communication style that can be a delightful new experience for many expats.

One of the most notable differences expats might notice is the fluid concept of time, colloquially as ‘Colombian time.’ Appointments and schedules are often viewed as flexible, and punctuality can differ significantly from the strict timeliness expected in many Western cultures. This relaxed attitude is a testament to the Colombian focus on people and relationships over the rigid scheduling often prevalent in other parts of the world.

Another distinct aspect is the Colombian emphasis on community and family. Unlike the individualistic cultures seen in much of the West, Colombians place great importance on familial connections and community involvement, which are central to one’s identity and daily life. This communal culture extends into business, where relationships and personal connections can significantly influence professional interactions and opportunities.

Adjusting to life in Colombia means embracing these cultural nuances. Moreover, expats will find that integrating into the local community is welcomed and encouraged. The openness and friendliness of Colombian people make it relatively easy for newcomers to make friends and build new networks. Additionally, the vibrant mix of indigenous, African, and Spanish influences in Colombian festivals, music, and dance offers expats an enriching cultural experience unlike anywhere else.

Colombian time and punctuality

In the heart of Colombian culture, time flows differently. Known for its relaxed approach to schedules and appointments, understanding ‘Colombian time’ is essential for expats aiming to integrate smoothly into daily life here. 

Unlike the rigid punctuality often valued in Western societies, Colombians typically view time with a much more flexible perspective. Meetings or social gatherings might start a half-hour or later than scheduled, and this elasticity in timekeeping is neither rude nor unexpected; it’s simply a part of the cultural fabric.

In Colombia, the emphasis is placed more on the quality of interactions and the importance of personal connections rather than on strict adherence to the clock. This approach can be seen in social and professional contexts, where building relationships is often considered more important than punctually ticking off agenda items.

Tips for Expats on Adjusting to ‘Colombian Time’

Patience is key: Understanding that delays aren’t a sign of disrespect but rather a cultural difference in prioritizing human interactions over schedules can help you adapt more comfortably and enjoyably.

Plan flexibility into your schedule: It’s wise to allow some buffer time when arranging meetings or social plans. If you’re transitioning from a punctuality-focused culture, consider this adjustment adding a new layer to your time management strategies rather than challenging your existing ones.

Communicate openly: Most Colombians are accommodating once they understand the expectations and will often adjust their behavior to meet professional deadlines.

Observe and adapt: Watch how locals manage their commitments and try to align your approach accordingly. Engaging with the local pace without resisting can lead to a more integrated and stress-free experience in Colombia.

Enjoy the moment: The most enjoyable part of adapting to Colombian time is learning to live in the moment. This can be an excellent opportunity to slow down and appreciate the vibrant life and interactions around you, enhancing your overall experience in Colombia.

Community and family

Role of family in Colombian society

In Colombia, family extends beyond the immediate circle to include an extensive network of relatives and close friends, reflecting a deep-seated aspect of Colombian culture.

Family is the foundation; in Colombian culture, the family is the cornerstone of social life and a source of trust and support. Family gatherings are frequent and often include parents, children, and many aunts, uncles, and cousins. These gatherings are not just occasional reunions; they are essential rituals that reinforce the values of kinship and communal support.

The extended family often functions as a social safety net, providing emotional and economic support during times of need. This close-knit structure can influence many aspects of daily life, from business networking to social opportunities, and plays a crucial role in the societal fabric of Colombia.

How can expats integrate into these family-centric communities?

Embrace invitations: Integration into a family-centric community often begins with a simple invitation. Accepting invitations to local events or family gatherings can open doors to deeper relationships and understanding of Colombian social nuances.

Show genuine interest: Taking an interest in the lives of community members and participating in local traditions can endear you to Colombian families. Ask questions, share stories from your own culture, and show respect for their customs.

Participate in local festivities: Colombian culture is replete with festivals and celebrations, many of which revolve around familial and community relationships. Participating in these events is fun and a significant way to build bonds and show your willingness to be part of the community.

Learn the language: While many Colombians speak English, learning Spanish can significantly enhance your ability to engage with immediate and extended family circles. Language is a powerful tool in bridging cultural gaps and deepening relationships.

Be patient and open: Building deep connections takes time, especially in a culture that values long-term relationships over superficial encounters. Be patient with yourself and others as you navigate the complexities of integrating into a family-centric society.

colombian family

Food and festivities

Culinary delights of Colombia

Colombia’s vibrant culture is deliciously reflected in its diverse culinary landscape. This section delves into the tantalizing dishes essential to understanding the flavors of Colombian culture and provides practical tips for expats on where to discover these mouth-watering treats. Whether you’re a foodie at heart or simply curious about local cuisine, exploring Colombian dishes offers a tasty avenue to connect with this country’s rich traditions.

Arepas

No exploration of Colombian food would be complete without arepas. These versatile corn cakes are a staple in every region, though their fillings and preparations can vary widely. From the cheese-stuffed arepas of the coast to the simpler, buttered versions in the highlands, each arepa you taste tells a story of regional preferences and agricultural practices.

Bandeja paisa

Often considered the quintessential Colombian dish, the bandeja paisa is a hearty platter that features a mix of rice, beans, ground beef, chorizo, fried pork belly (chicharrón), avocado, arepa, and topped with a fried egg. It’s a true reflection of the Colombian spirit—generous and fulfilling.

Sancocho

This traditional stew, made with chicken, fish, or beef, is a comforting symbol of home cooking in Colombia. Root vegetables and plantains add depth and heartiness, making sancocho a beloved dish during family gatherings and festive celebrations.

Empanadas

Colombian empanadas are a must-try street food. These crispy turnovers are typically filled with seasoned meat and potatoes and served with a zesty lime and cilantro sauce called ‘aji’.

Celebrations and Colombian festivities

Colombia, with its rich blend of indigenous, African, and Spanish influences, boasts some of the world’s most vibrant and colorful festivals. These celebrations are spectacular to witness and deeply ingrained in Colombian culture. 

Carnaval de Barranquilla

One of the most iconic celebrations in Colombia, the Carnaval de Barranquilla is recognized by UNESCO for its cultural heritage. This four-day festival leading up to Ash Wednesday is a riot of music, dance, and costumes that showcase the diversity and creativity of the Colombian people. The festival symbolizes unity and resilience, blending indigenous, African, and European traditions.

Feria de Cali

Known as the ‘Salsa Capital of the World‘, Cali bursts into life every December with its famous fair. The event includes salsa dancing, music concerts, beauty pageants, and bullfighting. It celebrates joy and is a perfect window into Colombian salsa culture.

Flower Festival (Feria de las Flores)

Held in Medellín, this festival celebrates the region’s flower growers and their contributions to the local economy. The highlight is the ‘Desfile de Silleteros’, where participants carry elaborate flower arrangements on their backs—a tradition that dates back generations and signifies the beauty of Colombian flora.

Holy Week (Semana Santa)

This religious festival is particularly significant in Popayán and Mompox, where ancient processions and rituals are observed. It reflects the deep-rooted religious traditions and the Spanish colonial legacy that shapes much of Colombia’s spiritual landscape.

empanadas

Work and leisure

Work culture in Colombia

Understanding the work environment and business etiquette is crucial for any expat aiming to thrive in a new country. In Colombia, where the warmth of its people spills over into business relationships, grasping the subtleties of the local work culture can significantly enhance your professional journey. 

In Colombia, personal relationships and trust are fundamental to successful business dealings. Unlike in many Western cultures, where transactions are often swift and straightforward, Colombians value getting to know their colleagues and business partners more deeply. Expect to spend time in meetings discussing non-work related topics, which is seen not as wasted time but as a vital part of building trust.

Despite the relaxed approach to time, business interactions often maintain formality. Titles and surnames are commonly used until a more informal relationship is established. Understanding and respecting this formality can help ex-pats navigate early interactions successfully.

Also, in business settings, Colombians tend to dress formally. Suits and conservative dresses are standard, reflecting the importance placed on appearances as a sign of respect for one’s position and colleagues.

Leisure and Relaxation Colombian Style

Embracing leisure and relaxation is integral to Colombian culture, reflecting the locals’ zest for life and love for celebration. Colombia offers diverse activities that cater to various interests, allowing locals and expats to unwind in uniquely enjoyable ways. In this section, we explore the popular leisure activities that define relaxation in Colombia and discuss the opportunities for expats to immerse themselves in these delightful experiences.

Dance is vital to Colombian social life, with styles like Salsa, Cumbia, and Vallenato taking center stage. Cities like Cali, known as the world’s Salsa capital, offer numerous dance schools and clubs where locals and visitors alike can dance the night away. Engaging in these dance activities is fun and a great way to connect with the local culture and people.

Another relaxing way is to visit local cafés and enjoy coffee tastings at the numerous coffee farms, a beloved pastime. The Zona Cafetera, Colombia’s coffee region, provides a scenic backdrop for learning about coffee production and indulge in some of the world’s best coffee. This activity is perfect for a leisurely day trip or a relaxing weekend getaway.

Colombia’s varied landscapes make it a playground for outdoor enthusiasts. From hiking in the Andes to surfing on the Pacific coast, the country offers a wide range of outdoor activities that allow you to enjoy nature while getting some exercise. The national parks, like Tayrona and Los Nevados, offer spectacular natural beauty and are popular spots for relaxation and adventure.

Learn more facts about Colombia.

Conclusion

Adapting to the vibrant Colombian culture can be a joyful yet daunting journey for many expats. The relaxed approach to time, known locally as ‘Colombian time,’ can often be a significant adjustment for those accustomed to more punctual environments. This cultural perspective sees time as fluid, where social interactions and personal connections usually precede strict schedule adherence.

Another cultural aspect is the Colombian emphasis on close personal interactions. Expats might find the direct and sometimes personal communication style surprising. Social norms here involve a closer physical proximity and a warmer, more expressive interaction style than in many Western cultures.

The rewards of adapting to Colombian culture are deeply gratifying. Expats who fully engage with the local customs and social norms often enjoy a more prosperous, more connected life. Embracing the local way of living can lead to stronger relationships and a profound sense of community, enhancing personal happiness and professional fulfillment.

Moreover, the festive spirit of Colombian culture, with its myriad of dances, festivals, and social gatherings, offers an exciting and vibrant lifestyle that can significantly enhance your quality of life. These cultural experiences provide entertainment and a deeper understanding of the rich tapestry that makes up the Colombian identity.

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