Colombian Culture

Communication

Verbal

  • Communication Style: Colombians can be quite expressive when making their point heard. They are generally open about their emotions. One typically finds that the loudest personalities dominate as multiple tangents of conversation can be conducted at once. There are not always intermittent moments of silence in which more timid voices can interject. However, while they can be very energetic, Colombians are sensitive listeners. They are often very attentive to their conversation partner, allowing them to speak in full. Show them the same respect when listening and avoid interrupting.
  • High-Context Culture: Colombia is often defined as high-context culture, meaning that the background information to interaction is often contained in the context. One’s status and position does not always need to be explicitly expressed in communication. 
  • Indirect Communication: Colombians are generally observed as being indirect communicators. They rarely deliver delicate information in a frank or blunt way. To avoid conflict or confrontation, they often take a long-winded, roundabout approach to conveying their messages sensitively and tactfully. Verbal and written communication is often extensive, elaborate and verbose. Furthermore, they may be elusive when giving negative answers in order to avoid disappointment or offence. For example, they may say they will “see what I can do” instead of giving a straight “no”.
  • Language Style: When speaking in Spanish, Colombians use a lot of diminutives to convey their meaning in a softer or more affectionate way. This is usually done by simply adding ‘ito’ or ‘ita’ to the end of a word. For example, they may refer to their “abuelo” (grandfather) as “abuelito” (meaning ‘grand pappy’), or they may say that a man is “thin on top” (calvito) instead of “bald” (calvo).
  • Formality: There are different forms of expression in Spanish that communicate varying levels of courtesy and formality. The polite form of speech is to address people in the formal form of ‘you' (known as ‘usted’). This should be used when addressing anyone of a higher status out of respect. The informal ‘you' (known as ‘’) is generally used between people who know each other very well and among the youth.
  • Inverted Question Marks: In the Spanish language, questions are written with an inverted (or upside-down) question mark at the beginning of the sentence. For example: ¿Cuántos años tienes? (How old are you?).
  • Humour: Colombians are often very good at introducing humour into conversation whilst keeping it dignified and somewhat formal. Sarcasm and self-deprecating jokes are very common. Some jokes shared between men in Colombia may be quite crude, but these are rarely told in the company of women or family members.
  • Raised Voices: Colombians may speak at quite loud volumes, especially when in a group. This is the norm and does not usually indicate that people are agitated.

 

Non-Verbal

  • Physical Contact: Colombians are generally very tactile people. They may nudge your arm or leg to reinforce their points in conversations, put an arm around your shoulder in camaraderie or hold both your shoulders to show deep appreciation. However, some men may prefer not to touch one another if it can be avoided.
  • Personal Space: Colombians often like to get quite close to the person they are talking to to make a point. They may bring their face quite close to your own as they speak earnestly.
  • Eye Contact: Direct eye contact is normal and expected. Avoiding another person’s gaze may imply guilt or dislike.
  • Beckoning: It is inappropriate to beckon people with your index finger alone. If beckoning, wave towards yourself using the entire hand.
  • Pointing: It is considered rude and aggressive to point with the index finger. People may gesture towards something by pursing their lips (as if to kiss) in the direction of the person.
  • Gestures: In Colombia, to use the index and middle finger to tap the neck signals “I lost” or “I have a problem”. To point with two index fingers (as if indicating the length of something) is an obscene gesture. The thumbs-up symbol and gesture for “Okay” (making a circle with your thumb and index finger) generally have the same meaning as they do in the English-speaking West. However, it is considered vulgar to place a circle made with your thumb and index finger over your nose (the same symbol as “Okay”). In Colombia, this implies that someone is a homosexual. To tap one’s hand on the elbow indicates that someone is being stingy.
  • Indicating Height: To indicate the height of someone, you may hold your hand up with your palm facing down. However, Colombians may also hold their hand up on its side so that the height of the top of your thumb indicates the height of the person.
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