Thursday, February 11, 2010

Welcome to Medellín, Dress Accordingly

 I've officially logged  a week at the Casa del Sol, which has gone quite well as the people staying here are very easygoing as are the owner and staff. I've done a fair amount of exploring in groups or with other people but yesterday was the first time I went out on my own. Flor, the hostel's cleaning lady I talk to on a pretty regular basis. She was complaining about another resident (from the U.S.) who was always snapping at her for tidying up the room, particularly when he's still sleeping in it. He teaches English in a university and she can't believe that he goes to teach his lessons without having bathed, brushed his teeth or put on a clean shirt.

This is actually a valid point on personal appearances in Latin America. As a whole, I'd say everyone dresses nicer than they do in the U.S. The Colombian or Panamanian businessman in the suit and jacket, sweating buckets as he goes about his day is evidence of this. I've found the best way to avoid unwanted gringo attention is to also avoid the shorts n' t-shirt style of the obvious tourist. But, more importantly, your image and your behavior while you are traveling/working/living abroad will inevitably come to reflect positively or negatively on your fellow countrymen. So while it's important to be comfortable while on vacation, if you're staying a while, think about it. I'm sick of having Aussies in flip flops with no Spanish skills complain about how they can't get a woman at the club to dance with them.Taking Flor's advice (and blessing) I headed out wearing a nice shirt, cleanly shaven and was eventually blessed two more times by different people that day. I had about extended chats with locals throughout lunch and on the street. "Thank you for coming here and welcome to Medellín," each one of them would say at the end.

Being in the market was overwhelming. As I was talking to the butcher, every other employee in the store slowly crept into the conversation. It's hard not to get sick of the same types of questions (where I'm from, what I enjoy about Colombia), but this market obviously didn't get many visitors from the U.S. who could communicate well. The señora weighing produce even tried to hook me up with her daughter, who blushed behind her "Vaquito" apron. I'd received some of these niceties while in Argentina, but not this frequently, not to this degree. True, my Spanish is better now, but in reality, Colombians are just an incredibly warm and outgoing people. With five store employees all listening to my gringo stories, I felt the pressure to conclude with something funny or witty but all I could come up with was: "well, I gotta get home and cook this meat!" As they all waved goodbye it dawned on me how goofy yet amiable I sound in Spanish which is maybe not such a bad thing.

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