Here are some random tongue-in-cheek observations, cut from my personal journal, on my experience here in Colombia. Just to give you more context on what it's like being a rare gringo on the streets of Bogota...
The war here gets lots of foreign press, but I’m beginning to think that walking around Bogotá is much more dangerous. I'm certain that the crosswalks exist only in order to direct ambulance drivers to where they'll most likely find dead foreign pedestrians. I got in a fight with a taxi driver who just about ran me over as I was crossing on a green light. I don't know any vulgar insults in Spanish, and certainly none like he was throwing at me, so I translated directly the classic American "bite me" - muerdame! Judging by the perplexed look on his face this has a completely different meaning in Spanish, although I don't care to know what.
Travel Rule #64: When you're in the busy downtown area of a city of 10 million people at midday and both the street and sidewalk are absolutely devoid of people and cars, you probably shouldn't be there either. Had I followed this rule I wouldn't have been tear-gassed. Apparently I stumbled onto a protest by students at the National University de Bogotá, but I was enjoying the empty sidewalks and window shopping a little too much to be thinking straight. That is until the windows began to shatter, rounds of tear-gas fell all around, and the police in riot gear rushed by me as if I was just some stupid tourist. They've pretty much got me figured out.
I wonder if scientists doing DNA extraction and purification have found a salsa gene in Latin Americans, because I'm most certainly missing it. It doesn't matter where I am - a restaurant, bar, bookstore, etc - but when a popular salsa song comes on *everybody* jumps up and starts dancing. It reminds me of the time I was in Tajikistan and the local warlord walked into the bar. I hate being the only person sitting down, but it's a choice of looking stupid sitting down vs looking really stupid on my feet.
I truly believe that people all around the world are the same...except when it comes to the size of my all-American bladder. The largest juice or soft drink you can buy in restaurants around here comes in a Dixie cup. It's like taking communion 3 times a day, "...the blood of the Father...Amen." I'd do anything to find a 7-11 that serves a 64-ounce big gulp. Is it too much to ask for a Pepsi large enough to bathe in and with enough ice in which to pack my severed leg when I get whacked by a taxi?
I've determined that the name for the dance "salsa" was derived from how a woman's toes look after dancing with me. The Colombianos are so elegant as they float across the dance floor, their bodies moving as one. Whereas dancing with me is like maneuvering a full-sized refrigerator around a Tokyo hotel room. However it's done wonders for expanding my vocabulary with such useful phrases as "Sorry you're bleeding. Hope you don't have to work tomorrow".
I'm learning Spanish from Sylvester Stallone. A great way to learn colloquial phrases is to watch American movies on TV and read the Spanish subtitles. And Sylvester Stallone movies are the best because he's such a horrible actor and speaks so slowly that I can keep up with the subtitles. But every once in a while when someone reacts with a laugh to something I've said I can't help but wonder if I talk like a Colombian Rocky Balboa.
Have you ever noticed that milk tastes different in every country? Why is that? Skim milk in Colombia should taste the same as skim milk in the states, but it doesn't. Maybe it's because American cows can't dance. Or maybe it's the Dixie cup.
I'm a fairly well traveled person, but it's amazing how often I take for granted the differences in cultures that exist...until I do something stupid. This morning I stopped at a gym near my hotel for a quick workout, first entering the men's locker room: a standard room full of toilets, showers, lockers, etc to change into my workout clothes. It wasn't until I had stepped out of my underwear that I realized I was the only naked guy in a room full of about 30 others completely dressed, all of whom were staring at me with the disgusted reproach reserved for exhibitionists at a family beach. Looking around, I realized that in Colombia guys who need to "go completely naked" in order to change clothes do so in a shower stall. So I quickly hopped back into my underwear. Too quickly in fact because I jammed both feet into the same leg hole, hopping around on one leg trying unsuccessfully to regain my balance, before I was ultimately forced to bend over and stabilize myself putting both hands on a bench, flashing my bare rear end to all, including most of the people in the aerobics room who now had a clear view through the propped-open door. This is the first time I can remember using the "I'm from Canada" ploy in a completely non-hostile situation.