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Customs of Colombia

Marriage and Family

Many couples choose to live together before or instead of marriage. Marriage ceremonies generally follow Catholic traditions.

Traditional values remain a strong influence on family relations—the father feels obliged to provide for his family, while the mother is considered responsible for most of the affairs of the home. An increasing number of women work outside the home; almost half of the labor force is female. It is the custom for a child to have two family names; the last name is the mother’s family name, and the second-to-last name is the father’s family name. People use either their full name or go by their father’s family name, which is the official surname. Therefore, a person named José Muñoz Gómez would be called Señor Muñoz.

Eating

Breakfast often consists of fruit juice, coffee (which is the main crop grown in Colombia) or hot chocolate, fruit, eggs, and bread. Lunch, usually between 12 and 2 pm, is traditionally the time when the family gathers for its main meal of the day. However, in urban areas the main meal now tends to be eaten in the evening, at around 7 or 8 pm. Soup, rice, meat, potatoes, salad, and beans are the staple foods. How much and what people eat is largely determined by economic status, and there are considerable regional variations in cuisine. Typical dishes include arroz con pollo (rice with chicken); a soup made with cassava, maize, potatoes, and chicken; a dish made with ground beef, sausage, red beans, fried banana, fried egg, salt pork, and avocado; and sancocho, a meat and vegetable stew. Arepa is a maize meal pancake. In parts of Colombia people eat guinea pig.

Colombians value good manners and restraint. Second helpings are usually declined, and it is considered impolite to take anything to eat without first offering it to others. It is also considered inappropriate to eat on the streets.

Socializing

The most common greeting is a not-too-vigorous handshake. Men often shake hands with everyone when entering a home, greeting a group, or leaving. Women offer a verbal greeting and may kiss each other on the cheek if they are acquainted. Young people may also kiss on the cheek if they are good friends. The abrazo (hug) is common between close friends or relatives. It is customary to use titles (Señor, Señora, Doctor, among others) when being introduced. First names are usually not used between strangers. Common greetings include ¡Buenos días! (“Good day!”) and ¿Cómo está? (“How are you?”); ¡Adiós! (“Good-bye!”) is used when parting.

Customs vary among ethnic groups and between regions. In general, friends and relatives may visit unannounced, especially in rural areas where telephones are not widely available, but it is otherwise usual to call ahead or make arrangements in advance. When invited for dinner, guests usually arrive up to 30 minutes after the stated time. They may bring a small gift, but this is not expected. When guests are leaving, it is normal for the host to accompany them outside and even along the street.

Recreation

Fútbol (soccer) is the most popular sport, but Colombians also enjoy many others, including bicycle racing, swimming, track and field, volleyball, basketball, and baseball. Many Colombians have access to the beach, and some ski in the mountains. Wealthy individuals often belong to sport clubs offering golf and tennis. Bullfights also continue to draw crowds. In addition to general socializing, people enjoy dancing and music.

Holidays and Celebrations

Holidays in Colombia include New Year’s Day (1 January), Epiphany (6 January), Saint Joseph’s Day (19 March), Easter, Labor Day (1 May), Feast of Saints Peter and Paul (29 June), Independence Day (20 July), Battle of Boyacá (7 August), Assumption Day (15 August), Día de la Raza (12 October), All Saints’ Day (1 November), Independence of Cartagena (11 November), and Christmas Day (25 December).

Source: Encarta Interactive World Atlas