Colombian Culture

Etiquette

Basic Etiquette

  • Cover your mouth when yawning.
  • It is rude to speak with your hands in your pockets or chew gum with your mouth open.
  • Slouching and leaning against things is bad form.
  • Punctuality is not tight in Colombia. Expect people to follow a looser “tiempo colombiano” (Colombian time) for social and casual engagements. Delays or lateness of up to an hour from the time stated can be normal.
  • Avoid slamming a car or house’s door unless it will not shut without force.
  • Do not pass things to people by casually throwing them.
  • Men are expected to open doors for women.
  • When paying a bill, men always pay for women. Otherwise, the person who has invited the others out to dine pays for everyone. In circumstances under which no one was specifically invited, usually the highest-ranking person pays for the others.

 

Visiting

  • In Colombia, it is common for people to sit on their verandas or porches and engage passers-by in conversation.
  • Good friends may come to visit one another without giving prior notice. In other circumstances, an invitation is generally expected.
  • It is very impolite to turn down an invitation to join someone at their home. Such an invitation is usually made to try and establish a personal friendship and rejection is interpreted as a lack of interest in building a relationship with the other person.
  • It is a polite gesture to bring cakes, traditional breads and desserts to the host when visiting for the first time.
  • It is customary to offer guests coffee (tinto) during their visit.
  • Expect a Colombian host to put on music or fill the space with their own voice. Visits to people’s houses are often highly entertaining and social gatherings.


Eating

  • Keep your hands visible above the table and do not rest your elbows on it.
  • The saying “Buen provecho” (enjoy) indicates it is time to start eating.
  • It is polite to try and taste every dish on offer.
  • Do not use a toothpick whilst still seated at the table.
  • The most common toast is “Salud” meaning ‘to your health’.
  • Your glass will usually be refilled if your host sees that it is less than half full.
  • When drinking wine, the man’s glass is filled first so he can have the first taste.
  • Colombians do not generally drink alcohol quickly to get drunk. They tend to drink with their meals at a more elegant and leisurely pace.
  • When you have finished eating, leave a small portion of food on your plate to indicate you are full.


Gift Giving

  • Gifts are given on special occasions such as one’s birthday, Christmas Day, Epiphany, christenings and weddings.
  • Sometimes people may ask for 'lluvia de sobres', which is essentially money in an envelope.
  • In Colombia, the 15th birthday of a girl is considered an especially important milestone. It is customary to give her something gold on this day.
  • If giving flowers, avoid lilies, marigolds or other yellow flowers. They are used at funerals. Carnations are also the national flower and should be reserved for patriotic events. Bouquets should have an odd number of flowers.
  • Imported alcohol (spirits), expensive chocolates or specialised products unavailable in Colombia usually make good gifts.
  • Gifts are not usually opened in front of the person who gave them.
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