July 15th, 2010
After six months of living in this wonderful country we’ve been able to acclimate ourselves to this culture pretty well despite our inherent physical and linguistic differences (Marcela gets many looks for her blonde hair and I tower over 80% of the population). Some of the things that have taken the most getting used to are the small Colombian quirks that we’ve discovered only after peeling back the layers and taking a closer look at the details. Over the course of many blog posts I’ll be bringing you different examples of the comical differences between our native US culture and the Colombian culture we are immersed in.
Idiosyncrasy #1: La Ley Seca (The Dry Law)
Marcela and I recently celebrated our first wedding anniversary on June 20th, the same day as the Colombian presidential elections. First of all you should know that all Colombian elections, both local and national, are held on Sundays because it reduces the odds that people will have work conflicts and ensures a higher percentage of voter turnout (are you taking notes, America?) The second thing is that in 1915 the Colombian government enacted a law that makes it illegal to buy, sell, or drink alcohol from 6:00 pm Friday until 6:00am Monday on election weekends. Thanks to these Colombian customs we were unable to publicly toast our anniversary with champagne, not to mention none of the restaurants bothered to open on a day they couldn’t sell alcohol. Apparently, this law was implemented nearly one hundred years ago to prevent people from voting under the influence (VUI), or from forgetting to vote altogether in their drunken Sunday stupor.
What strikes us as comical is that this law stands in stark contrast to Colombia’s otherwise lax attitude towards alcohol as evidenced by public alcohol consumption that persists on a daily basis. We’ve seen men in cafés at 9:30 am on a Tuesday, beers in hand and empty ones in front of them. We’ve witnessed teenagers, many of which were well below the legal drinking age of 18, lounging on the very public steps of a Metro station drinking and daring the American moral police to stop them. As a passenger in a car, you’re more than welcome to sip an alcoholic beverage as you’re chauffeured around town. One of my favorite examples–and one that I’ve personally enjoyed–is the ability to roam the aisles of grocery stores while sipping a drink. When the hustle and bustle of shopping is making you thirsty, don’t even think twice about grabbing a beer from the fridge to enjoy as you peruse the produce–just save the bottle so you can pay for it at the checkout. It’s hard to find an example, apart from the election weekends, where alcohol consumption is banned, shunned, or even looked-down upon.
Now before you rush to judge this “alcoholic culture” I’ve described, make sure you understand that Colombians don’t drunkenly roam the streets nor do they encourage their children to drink beginning at age 5 like France. It appears that their more open and less-stigmatized relationship with alcohol has created a more jovial, inclusive, and safer drinking populace. In fact, if they didn’t have a responsible relationship with alcohol, a law banning alcohol during every election weekend could never exist. I just wish they’d put a clause in there for 1st wedding anniversaries.