Hola, ¿cómo estás?

As a North American in Colombia, I notice that at first glance, in many ways, my birth country and my new country of residence are not all that different. The coastal city of Barranquilla where I lived could easily be a small town in Southern California. Sunny, palm trees everywhere, tall apartment buildings, stucco houses, malls, paved roads with cars…These are all superficial observations, of course, but they are similarities nonetheless.

Perhaps this is the reason I’ve never had a big “wow I’m in Colombia moment.” In all of the other places I have traveled to, and especially the ones where I have lived, at some point shortly after my arrival I find myself thinking, “Wow! I can’t believe I’m really here! Is this for real?!” But in Colombia, that never happened. I felt more like, “Cool, I’m in Colombia.” My life here is very normal. I wake up, go to work, come home, watch Friends on my computer, hang out with my roommates, eat dinner, go to sleep. I go to the mall, the grocery store, bars, the pool, and friends’ houses on the weekends. The same can happen in every corner of the world.

However, from the second I arrived until now, I have also noticed and cherished many of the differences, big and small, that exist between Colombia and the US. One of the first differences to note is how people greet one another. It is almost always one kiss on the cheek, to the right of the person. Sometimes, depending on the situation, it might be a handshake, but generally, it is a kiss. However, two men will never greet by kissing on the cheek; between men, it is only a handshake, or perhaps if they are very close friends a half hug/pat on the back. The kiss is only between women or a man and a woman, and it can be just a cheek to cheek touch or an actual peck on the cheek, depending on the people. Also, it is very important when entering a room or space to greet everyone, not just the people you know or the people near you.

Personally, I really like how people greet one another here. For one, it decreases the amount of personal space, which for some North Americans I think might be difficult to accustom themselves to, but once they do, it’s easy to appreciate the closeness and warmth of the culture here. I also like greeting everyone when I walk into a room or party, because in the US, I would most likely only go up to the people I know or the people to whom a friend introduces me. I am a shy person when I first meet people, so it is difficult for me to talk to people I don’t know, but here, I have met many more people simply because I introduced myself when I went somewhere new.

I’ve tried to look up the history on greetings and why some cultures greet with a handshake, such as North American, and others, such as Latin American, greet with a kiss, and I can find nothing on why this is. However, I do think that the way in which we greet one another says something about our social interactions in general. I think that North Americans are more private and concerned with personal space boundaries, while in Latin America, personal boundaries are not as clearly defined and are not as important. So if the Reader is a North American planning on going to Colombia, or indeed to a number of other destinations, be ready to widen your comfort zone a bit and greet people with a friendly kiss on the cheek.

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