Sunday, August 14, 2011

Colombian Curiosities

This is my third weekend in my new country (and continent for that matter), and I’ve been noticing a few curiosities I’d like to share. It’s specifically these differences between countries that give them their flavor, so please don’t take my noticing these oddities as my belief that they’re wrong or silly, just different and therefore interesting.
Going shopping
·         Weekend trips to the supermarket have brought a few things to my attention. First, upon driving into the large parking garage my neighbors and I (they offered to take me shopping) are met by security guards and their explosive-sniffing dog. We stop the car, open the doors and trunk and the dog gives a quick sniff-search before we’re allowed into the garage. This reminds me that despite the lovely neighborhoods, clean streets and friendly people – this still is a danger post.
·         Paying with a credit card? At check-out they will ask you how many payments you want to make for this purchase. Or, if you’re me, they’ll say something and look expectantly at you as you try to fathom what the heck they want and why aren’t they satisfied with the smile and nod. If you have a local credit card, you can designate that your $60 purchase (for example) should be split into three payments over the next three months. You can then go into the next store, buy $45 of stuff and have that split over six payments. Sounds like an accounting nightmare to me, but what do I know? Word of advice: if you have an American credit card, just say “una” when the nice cashier asks you something and won’t proceed until you answer. Again, thanks to my friends for ‘splaining that to me!
Must Love Dogs – or – Gata Non-Grata
This is a dog-friendly country, not so if you have chosen feline friends. I would like to offer some proof:
·         Dog fincas (farms): A coworker (and many others, apparently) sends her dog four days per week to a dog finca. A man with a van comes to her apartment in the morning to pick up “Bella” and deliver her to a farm in the nearby countryside where she gets to frolic outside with other city-dogs. There is a farm house where each dog has their own little area to come inside, complete with their own particular food. At the end of the day, the well-exercised dogs jump back into their van (again, divided with separate compartments) and are delivered back to their city homes. My friend told me of one dog that is so accustomed to this routine that when he’s let out of his apartment by the maid, she rings for the elevator, he goes in, she selects the floor, he takes it to the ground level, exits, and the doorman opens the door for him where he then jumps into his van to go to the doggie farm. Repeat in reverse at the end of the day. For this full-service operation, four days a week costs just $125/month.  
·         Mobile dog-grooming services: See exhibit A. This van was parked outside my apartment the other day. Yes, there is a Golden Retriever inside receiving his beauty treatment before being taken back up the elevator clean and fluffy to his owners.
Exhibit A

·         Costs of cat supplies:
Clumping cat litter – when you can find it – costs about $2/lb. I spent $42 on cat litter yesterday, plus the taxi fare to and from the store I found where they actually sell it. Heaven forbid you should need one of those Hill’s Science Diet recipe canned foods for Puss. Depending on the recipe, they run $2-6 per can (and I mean for the tuna fish-sized cans!)  Scratching posts? Sure, I saw them in the store. Plan to shell out about $75.

Public bathrooms:
·         I was saved last-second by my friends from an unfortunate learning experience, so let this be a word of caution: if the restrooms have toilet-paper dispensers outside of the stalls – use them, because it means there aren’t any inside the stalls. And if they have seat-cover dispensers, it probably means you’re just going to be sitting on the rim!
·         To call a taxi you should use a land-line, from which the automated dispatch service will automatically recognize your address, you press 1 to confirm, and then they give you the license plate of the cab that’s being dispatched and a “codigo” (secret code) to tell the driver to confirm that you’re actually the person who called. He punches that into his meter and away you go. Apparently it’s far more dangerous for driver and customer alike to just hail one from the street. I would never have figured this out on my own had it not been for a coworker explaining the process.
Bottom line: coming to a new country you’re going to make some social faux-pas. You’re going to stare blankly at cashiers; you’re going to do things wrong and no doubt people are going to laugh at you (hopefully after you leave). I’m getting used to asking friends or coworkers about anything new I undertake in case there’s some odd custom or habit I’d never have predicted. I’m sure there will be more to add to this list as the months unfold.

1 comment:

  1. So true - everywhere we move, I start all over feeling like an idiot. it takes awhile to figure out the systems. I've been here a year, and I still have moments of staring blankly at the cashier - even when he's speaking English!