Every country has certain conduct, “norms,” and customs tight to its culture.
As we have already mentioned in previous articles, Colombia is a multicultural and diverse country. Customs, traditions, and “cultural norms” might vary depending on the region you live in or visit.
We are friendly, happy, and easy-going people, but we might get sensitive when it comes to cultural norms.
It is very important to keep in mind certain cultural norms, etiquette, and behaviors whenever you are interacting with Colombians.
Colombian Basic Etiquette
- Shake hands when you meet someone for the first time. Kissing in the cheek is very informal, and it’s only acceptable when you already know the person.
- Cover your mouth when yawning.
- It is considered rude to speak with your hands in your pockets.
- Chewing gum with your mouth open is seen as bad manners.
- Avoid putting your feet on furniture in hotels, offices, or at home.
- Do not pass things to people by casually throwing them.
- Avoid putting your feet on furniture in hotels, offices, or at home.
- Avoid pointing people with your index finger. Instead, beckon with your palm down, waving your fingers or whole hand.
- Being well-groomed is important to Colombians, both women, and men. Although it’s not the rule, Colombians pay a lot of attention to appearance, good smell, groomed nails, and clean shoes.
- In main cities like Bogota, Cartagena, Cali, Medellin, mid and high-end restaurants and clubs follow strict dress codes and reserved admission rights. Usually, they don’t accept people who are wearing shorts, flip flops or sandals, running shoes, caps, etc.
- Punctuality is not tight in Colombia unless it is a business meeting. For social and casual engagements, delays or lateness of up to an hour from the time stated can be normal.
When dining with Colombians, be aware that table manners are essential for us.
- Keep your hands visible, with elbows off the table.
- Make sure you don’t sit down or start eating until invited to do so by your host.
- The saying “Buen provecho” (enjoy it) indicates it is time to start eating.
- Always eat with cutlery, as eating with your hands is frowned upon.
- Do not talk while chewing your food, and do not make noises while chewing.
- It is considered polite to try and taste every dish on offer.
- When you have finished eating, leave a small portion of food on your plate to indicate you are full.
- Do not use a toothpick while still seated at the table.
- We say “Salud!” (to your health) as we clink glasses before taking a drink as a form of salutation.
- When doing so, always look at the other person in their eyes.
- When dining out, the person extending the invitation will likely be expected to pay for the meal. It is not the rule, but it is common.
- Colombians do not generally drink alcohol quickly to get drunk. They tend to drink with their meals more elegantly and leisurely.
- Always say thank you to the host or the person that extended the invitation.
Visiting someone’s house
- If visiting Colombians in their home, it would be appropriate to take a small gift, such as wine, chocolates, or flowers.
- It is common for people to sit on their verandas or porches and engage passers-by in conversation.
- Good friends and close family members may come to visit one another without giving prior notice. In other circumstances, an invitation is generally expected.
- It is customary to offer guests coffee (tinto) during their visit.
- It is considered impolite to turn down an invitation to someone’s home. Such an invitation is usually made to try and establish a personal friendship; a rejection might be interpreted as a lack of interest in building a relationship with that person. It’s fine to say you can’t make it to that specific date but then try to reschedule.
- Do not enter other house spaces like bedrooms, kitchen, and studios unless you are invited to.
- 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’, literally translated as “envelopes rain,” which is giving money to the person in an envelope.
- In Colombia, the 15th birthday of a girl is considered a significant milestone.
- If giving flowers, avoid lilies, marigolds or other yellow flowers. They are used at funerals.
- Imported alcohol (spirits), expensive chocolates or specialized products unavailable in Colombia usually make good gifts.
- Gifts are not usually opened in front of the person who gave them.
There are many “cultural norms” and customs when it comes to dating Colombians. That’s why we wrote a complete article for you to learn the Colombian art of dating: “All you need to know to flirt and date with Colombians“.
For now, we can give you some quick tips:
- Colombian society is still somehow traditional. Typically men are those you ask women out, and they are expected to pay.
- It is considered polite when men open doors for women.
- Always keep your manners.
- Get a good perfume or cologne. Colombians love that! Try always to smell good.
Cliché, but if you are a guy, be on time but don’t expect her to do the same.
Say “gracias” after the date.
We also have designed a unique class “Spanish for Dating and Relationships“. Check it out!
- Shake hands with everyone when entering or leaving a room. If you already know the people you are having the meeting with, don’t be surprised if they greet you with a kiss on the cheek. To avoid misunderstandings, keep it formal and don’t kiss someone on the cheek unless the other person does so.
- When it comes to business meetings, Colombians are generally punctual. If you are running late, notify the counterpart in advance; they will appreciate it.
- Colombians like to talk, and therefore do not expect any meeting to be over quickly, as there will be a lot of small talks and general chats before getting down to the task at hand. Colombians want to know you personally before they do business with you. You must develop a relationship with your counterparts before they consider you trustworthy.
- Always allow your Colombian counterparts to bring up the subject of business. Be aware that this may take a while.
- Follow up a meeting by sending an e-mail summarizing the main points and what was agreed upon.
- It may take several trips to complete a business transaction. Colombians prefer to do business in person.
- Maintain eye contact during conversations.
- Contracts may be long and detailed. Put the key aspects of agreed-upon points in writing.
- Schedule meetings at least a couple of weeks in advance, although the agenda will likely remain fluid until very soon beforehand.
- If you do not speak Spanish, do not assume that everyone you are meeting with will speak English.
- Business in Colombia is generally carried out in quite a conservative manner, so expect to see traditional office hierarchies, with most decisions being made by more senior people.
We hope you find these bits of advice helpful! We all have different traditions and customs; it is very important to acknowledge and respect them. It’s always OK to ask your friends, colleagues or just any Colombian if you are not sure about certain behavior, they would appreciate it more if you ask before, and they will gladly explain why things are done this way.
If you want to learn more about the Spanish language and Colombian culture, join our online or in-person classes in Bogota. Also, follow our bi-weekly Blog and Social Media.