All of Peace Corps Colombia’s sites are in the coastal area of Colombia (la costa), where the people are called “costeños.” Because of the intense heat and humidity, the culture is a bit different here than in the interior (where Bogotá and Meddlín are), so just keep in mind that any references I make here are specific to costeños, and not necessarily applicable to greater Colombia.
One of the first things that I noticed about the costeños are that they are a warm, welcoming, and hospitable population. This manifests itself is several ways. The first happens immediately upon meeting someone. After the “I’m so-and-so,” “Nice to meet you,” there’s always a “Welcome to Palmar – if there’s anything that you need, I’m at your order.” Almost every single person has welcomed us with this phrase, “a la órden.”
Another time that hospitality is evident is with visitors. People are constantly stopping by each others’ houses – neighbors, friends, the lottery ticket guy, etc. – and because the door is usually open to let in fresh air, they just yell the name of the person they are looking for through the door. If that person’s there and the gate is unlocked, they yell back “adelante” – in this context, “come in, come in.” Visitors are always immediately offered a chair. Even when I am just stopping by a friend’s house to pick them up for class and I don’t expect to be at that house, I am still offered a chair. For someone accustomed to standing and waiting a bit, this feels strange, particularly when someone is getting up to offer me their chair. However, there are always chairs at the ready, so even if someone gives theirs up to offer to me, they will be grabbing one for themselves almost immediately. Often the chair comes with an offer of juice or soda.
My favorite costeño custom so far, however, is the tradition of nighttime porch-sitting. My host mom goes out to the patio every night. I join her, and almost all of the surrounding neighbors will be out on their porches as well. We just sit, sometimes chatting, sometimes in silence, and greet the passersby with an “A dios,” and enjoy the fresh evening breeze that this mild season has.