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Colombian mentalosities

by Alex on Aug.14, 2009, under Blog

There is so much stuff that happens here (in Colombia) that is mental. By mental I mean ridiculous, plain stoopid, things indicative of the fact that no thought whatsoever has gone in to their doing, stuff to which one’s only reaction can be one of incredulity. Etc… Don’t get me wrong, I love the place, and those who know me well will know that I love a good rant and there is so much ranting fuel to be found here without even looking for it. I’d not suggest that any of these things are Colombia-specific, rather things of Latin America.

The lying thing when requesting info is odd, and a pain in the ass. When traveling these parts many moons ago I quickly learned that when axing directions it was breast to ask at least three different people or parties. You could go with the first happy, smiley, confident answer, but then you’d often find yourself miles, or at least kilometres, out of your way, your frustration magnified by the fact that not only have you been sent on a wild goose chase, you have been done so with a 20-odd kilo rucksack on your back. And what’s the point? Oh oh, to save face I hear people say. Bullshit! Do you know everything in the world? No. Not even the most stupidly proudestest of people from wherever they mail hail is going to answer in the affirmative to that little question. So, with that in mind, might one of the things that you do not know be the location of place X? I’m not going to think any the lesser of you if you don’t know and even if I were to, who cares? You don’t know me and you’ll never see me again in your life. I’m certainly going to thing a lot the lesser of you when I find out you’ve sent me the wrong pissing way, cockend! Shirley even the most stupid can work out that it’s better to say ‘ask her over there’ than lie and send you off on a random mission.

So, saying we’re really drunk or drugged or something and accept this ‘losing face’ crap, how does that work with taxi drivers. With people in the street they can point and shoot, they can send you off without witnessing the end result, the taxi driver, by definition, is going to be there with you, that’s the point, that’s his bloody job! But they will still lie to you. Of course not everyone, I’m not and indeed it would be ridiculous to suggest that an entire culture of people act in this way, I am though saying that it is quite the norm. You can ask and double-ask a taxi driver, you can throw in trick questions and tests and you’ll be assured that this guy actually lives in the place to which you want to go, he owns it, he IS the place yet he’ll get arsey when you explain quite reasonbly that you’re not paying the fair as displayed on the meter as he’s been pissing about all over the shop driving round and round, clearly lost, asking for directions and wasting your bloody time having fully assured you in the first place that he knew exactly where he was going. Madness!

Customer service, customer cervix more like – it doesn’t really exist here. Again I generalise and of course you can find places where the staff are attentive to your needs but the norm is pretty poor. And I used to get pissed off with the crap we oft have to put up with in the UK! I was, the other day, trying to get to the bottom of how my hostel reservation has been messed up. The phone rings and the woman to whom I was talking who didn’t really seem to care answers. After about 20 seconds I realise that it’s not a business call and neither was she quickly telling her mate that she´d call back, she was full on gossiping! ‘Excuse me. Are you serving me or are you chatting to your friend?’ I ask. ‘Oh sorry, it’s my daughter and she’s calling long distance.’ She says. ‘I don’t care who it is, I’m a customer and you are in the middle of addressing my complaint.’ I say, at which she leaves her daughter and returns to our conversation which, of course, terminated unsatisfactorally – incredulous!

The above and a myriad of other examples can of course be explained by way of cultural norms. What I don’t get are the refrigerated busses, they are totally mental.

You get board a well appointed coach on which you plan to spend the next 10 to 20 hours traveling from one beautiful part to another in this most wonderful of countries. You recline your chair, it’s comfortable. You settle in, look around and then wonder why the locals have brought blankets and wooly hats with them. Very odd, it’s 30/85 degrees outside and, naturally, you’re in shorts and tee-shirt. Massive error. Some of the busses are pissing freezing! On the journey from Medellin to Bogotá I couldn’t sleep for the cold and I had a wooly hat, trousers and jacket on. It makes no sense. I’m dismayed at the apathy of the locals who rather than saying something about the ridiculous temperatures en masse and having it dealt with chose to address the issue by bringing blankets and duvets. And, I’m ravenously curious as to what might be the reason for this counter customer comfort and diesel consumption increasing practice. This is a real conversation that happened on that journey from Medellin to Bogota:

Me: Excuse me, can you turn the aircon down please
Conductor guy: No
Me: Why not? People are uncomfortable. Look around you
Conductor says something unintelligible to me
Me: Why won’t you turn the aircon down
Conductor just fucks off without looking at nor answering me

The only suggestion that has even a modicum on an iota of a possibility of having any sense whatsoever was that busses were kept so cold so that the drivers didn’t fall asleep at the wheel. I don’t though believe for one minute that the driver can’t adjust the cabin aircon separately to the aircon in the coach and even if he couldn’t he can open his frigging window. So, if anyone out there knows what the freezer-coach thing is all about please let me know. I’m dying to find out.

There is stacks more to rant about but that’s enough banging on for today. I’m off out for more Bogotá wanderings…

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