You Know You’ve Been in Cali Too Long When…

9 Apr
"Cristo Rey" that looks over Cali from the mountains.

“Cristo Rey” that looks over Cali from the mountains.

I’ve been in Cali, Colombia for over a year and a half now and I can genuinely say that it’s become home for me. I’ve come to love many things about Cali (even though there are a few little things that grate on my nerves every now and then).

Every place in the world has it’s own little quirks (you could write a whole book about the quirks of the Irish) and Cali is no exception. No matter how strange these little differences appear to us at first, over time we can find some of them becoming part of our own daily habits.

Here’s a few of the little idiosyncrasies that make the Caleños (the people of Cali) and Colombians in general, the special bunch that they are.

You know you’ve been in Cali too long when…

You point at everything with your mouth
I once asked the cute receptionist in the Library where the science section was and she replied by pursing here lips together and doing a little kissing motion, slightly off to the right. I naturally thought “Yup, still got it”. As I was still standing in front of her like an idiot she did the same little kiss followed by nodding her head firmly in the same direction. I turned around to see the sign for science.

I soon learned that in Cali, when you want to point at something, you just kiss in its general direction. However I did think I was rather popular amongst the ladies (and some of the men) before I figured it out.

You carry at least 2 phones
It’s expensive to call from one mobile phone operator to the other (Claro, Movistar, Tigo, Uff) so people often carry 2 (or even more) phones with different operators to make phone calls. I have to save multiple numbers for some of my friends into my phone so things can get confusing.

You can’t remember the last night out that you didn’t dance salsa
Salsa is the life blood of this city and can be heard everywhere from taxis to supermarkets and virtually every radio station you find. Apart from a few exceptions, in Cali Nightlife = Salsa!

Every second word out of your mouth is “marica
“Marica” is a word that actually means “gay” and is used like a punctuation mark by the youth of Cali. Be it the start, middle or end of a sentence, “marica” is a word that you can instantly use to sound more caleño.

You do a double take whenever you see a foreigner on the street (especially tall, blond women)
While tourists do come to Cali (especially for salsa), compared to other Colombian cities the tourist industry here is far from booming. So when ever you see someone who doesn’t look Colombian (and that you don’t know personally) you tend to do a little double take. If the person looks really out of place, like a tall, white blond woman, people tend to look even harder (go figure).

You flirt at every given opportunity
I thought Irish people were good at casual flirting but Colombians really have polished it to a fine art. Flirting is so natural here that it almost seems like a discourtesy not to flirt with someone of the opposite sex during daily interactions e.g. buying your morning coffee from the girl in the cafe, asking for directions from the nice police woman, getting an injection in the bum from the pretty doctor… it’s all good.

You have strong opinions about the colors red & green
Cali has 2 main soccer teams: América de Cali (called América) which has a red uniform and Deportivo Cali (called Cali) which has a green uniform. Colombians are passionate about football and show it in the colors they wear on a game night. God help the poor soul who gets caught out on the streets wearing a red t-shirt on a night when the green Cali fans are out.

You think of Chocolate, you think of this

It even comes with collectible stickers inside too!

It even comes with collectible stickers inside too!


You can’t remember even your closest friends real names
In Cali it’s perfectly normal to call someone a nickname based on their appearance e.g. flaca, gordo, negra, blanco (I get called “blancox”, it’s a type of bleach 😦  Yeah they’re real jokers here) and it can be quite easy to forget what people’s real names are.

If you’re a guy, tight jeans and a tight white vest are a perfectly legitimate fashion choice out on the street
If you’re a girl, tight jeans, ripped until there’s almost nothing left and skimpy florescent tops are all the rage

You can’t have your morning cup of coffee with out a “pandebono” to go with it
Pandebono are little wheel shaped, salty, cheesy pastries that are almost the symbol of Cali. One of my strongest images of Cali will always be a little cup of black coffee with a freshly baked pandebono at its side.

Esto es Cali!!!!

Esto es Cali!!!!

You get people’s attention saying “mirá” and finish your sentences with “
Cali has a particular dialect of Spanish that sometimes is called Caleñol and the defining phrase of the city is undoubtedly “mirá vé” which literally means “look look” but is used for emphasizing your sentence or just getting attention. It is an essential part of the local lexicon

You’re completely unfazed by jumping out of the Mio station doors
The bus service in Cali is called the Mio and buses pull into special, elevated stations with sliding doors. To leave you usually have to walk out the main entrance and wait at the traffic lights to cross the street. To avoid this long walk people jump from the platform into the bus lane and run across the street. I’ve done it a couple of times myself (nearly got hit by a bus once).

You can have an entire conversation with just gestures
Every country has it’s own physical gestures that can be completely different from their meanings in other countries. The funny thing is though, you usually learn gestures faster than the spoken language.
Here’s a nice great video with some gestures that you see virtually every day in Colombia:

You visit a “finca” every weekend
A finca is basically a country house, usually with a swimming pool and a little bit of land. It is the done thing to go to the finca (either your own or rented) to chill out or party with friends for the weekend. In Cali you’ll probably get an invite to a finca every second weekend.

You finish people’s sentences with the lyrics from salsa songs
If you live in Cali long enough the lyrics of all the salsa songs you hear every day eventually soak into your skull and when ever you hear someone starting a sentence with words resembling a song it’s just a natural reaction to add on the remaining lyrics (with a little bit of a salsa wiggle too).

You put cheese in your coffee…
… or hot chocolate or hot aguapanela (a drink made with raw cane sugar). I don’t get it myself but it is perfectly normal to put chunks of fresh white cheese into your hot drink and eat it out with a spoon.

Yes that is hot chocolate and yes that is cheese. Got a problem with that?

Yes that is hot chocolate and yes that is cheese. Got a problem with that?

You’re idea of a perfect Sunday afternoon after a night partying is “Sancocho de Pescado”
In Ireland the traditional cure for a hangover is a huge fried Irish breakfast of sausages, rashers, eggs and whatever will fit in the frying pan. In Cali they’re much more refined and people instead go out for lunch to neighborhoods like “La Alameda” to eat the African-influenced seafood from the Pacific region. One example is “sancocho de pescado” a coconut-based, coriander-infused fish soup that is easily one of my favorite foods in Colombia.

Every word out of your mouth ends in “ito” or “ita”
In Cali, diminutives are used almost more than the regular form of the word and it’s something I absolutely love about the language here. So remember to order a cervecita for your noviecita when you’re out dancing salsita. And remember, if you’re a beautiful woman and you call me papasito, I’m butter in your hands.

You think it’s perfectly reasonable when someone suggests you go to a disreputable salsa club on the outskirts of the city on Monday night
There is an institution in Cali called Las Brisas de Jamundí, well outside the city, that goes wild on a Monday nights. It has a bit of a reputation for being popular with drug traffickers (who else can go and party on a Monday night?) and some spectacular salsa dancers. It appears that I am very weak to persuasion by beautiful women and despite my early start to work in the morning they still manage to convince me to go at times. Like last night (I am so tired right now).

You get really annoyed when people spell Colombia with a “U”
Let this be the last time I have to say this, ever. This country is called ColOmbia not ColUmbia. Get it right!!!!

These are just a few of the things that make Cali and Colombia so special for me and I’m very proud to call myself an honorary Caleño.

Can you think of anything I might have left out? Let me know in the comments.

Keep dancing folks.


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11 Responses to “You Know You’ve Been in Cali Too Long When…”

  1. jolandasontheway April 9, 2013 at 9:29 am #

    Great article. It remembers me of a great time I’ve had there. The shopping in Cali is absolutely great and pretty particular. I haven’t seen so many nice shops in other Colombian cities. What I found very special were the high numbers of underwear and bikini shops as well as jeans shops… and the dummies… In Europe they’re skinny, all over Latin America curvy but in Cali not only curvy, they also have very big boobs… looks really funny if you see a line with ten of them…

    • The Dancing Irishman April 9, 2013 at 10:19 am #

      Hi Jolanda
      Yeah the mannequins in Cali are hilarious. I couldn’t stop laughing (and taking photos) the first time I saw them hahaha!

  2. Roisin April 9, 2013 at 9:31 am #

    Brilliant article, loved reading it, brought back many memories and everything you point out is true…. very well written!

  3. Ellen Keith April 9, 2013 at 10:00 am #

    I love this! You hit it spot on!

  4. ngela Maunga April 9, 2013 at 4:30 pm #

    Bueno, le tu texto y simplemente estoy de acuerdo con algunas cosas y no con otras…pero eso pasa cuando clasificas una cultura de esa forma, al interior de cada cultura hay quienes siguen ciertos patrones y quienes no…yo veo otras cosas en cali que me parecen parte fundamental de la ciudad y que no estn all, bueno esa es la cali que vos has conocido, la que te toca, la que te queda……

    suave que es bolero ngela Maunga Arroyo

    Golpeo el suelo con las plantas de mis pies y la vida me sube por las piernas, me recorre el esqueleto, se apodera de mi, me quita la desazn y me endulza la memoria. El ritmo nace en la isla bajo el mar, sacude mi cuerpo como un relmpago y se va al cielo llevndose mis pesares…Baila, baila, Zarit, porque esclavx que baila es libre Zarit

  5. Andy April 10, 2013 at 10:50 am #

    Soccer?….soccer!!!??….. What sport is this you call soccer?…. there is a sport in the civilized Europe, that originates from England named as “football”….

    With that small rant out the way, there are plenty of things in your list that are not as accurate as you listed above, or maybe just needed to elaborate a bit more, maybe!

    Lets stay with football, the 2 teams do divide the city in a very big way, the only city where I’ve seen a bigger division is Glasgow, but I’ve heard its even worst down Buenos Aires….. But I’ve never been in better parties than when the International team wins a match and its great cos the whole city dresses yellow.

    Now, the food bit, I think I could have a different breakfast everyday of the week and label them all as traditional, arepa con queso y chocolate I think is a little more traditional, everyday breaky even though pandebonos y bugnuelos don’t lack that far behind…. and los sancochos, whether is breakfast , lunch or dinner, always goes well, specially on hangover days, funnily enough, today on the metro newspaper there was an article on how meatball noodle soup with an egg (changua style) was the best cure for hangovers, discovered by U S soldiers ( again the sarcasm about what is civilized should come into play here as its now been discovered by an American). but little do people know that if you down this with an “Irn bru” you’ll be fine in no time. This would be una Colombiana popular in Cali…..LOL

    The cheese in the coffee is a bit weird, its supposed to go in the hot chocolate, it does 3 things, 1 makes the chocolate a bit thicker helping the froth on the top stay for a bit longer, 2 its supposed to help cool down a bit the temperature of the choc, and 3 to melt the cheese, melted cheese is just so nice. You forgot to mention how everyone puts sliced banana in their soup.

    The hand gesturing is more like a bad habit, easy to pick up and almost impossible to get rid of, having said that, the pouting of the mouth is something I do everywhere and everybody has understood me fine, but I don’t know if you’ve witnessed the pointing of things with your eyes, its done by by lifting your eyebrows to its highest they go and then looking in the direction intended to fulfil the information required, and its mostly done when the direction in question is so obvious that just an eye signal is enough.

    The word ‘marica’ is not alone, there is also ‘guevon’ and its just as commonly used, but funnily enough its only used by people who have gone to uni or are still students in uni.

    The salsa bit, which where ever you go there is salsa, I don’t find it as much, plenty of people doing their everyday things are mainly listening to baladas, vallenato, pop in English and Spanish, boleros, ranchera o musica de cantina, and more often than not I would end up in some rock bar, or trance club. I guess its easier to get involved and submerged in things that you enjoy more and is on the look out for, it happened to me here in London for about 5 years, all I could or would hear was drum and base, and that is no where near as big as salsa… I guess that’s also the best bit about travelling, you get to learn to appreciate other beats and sounds, and before you know it you in the middle of Italy dancing samba with a Swedish girl….. I fucking love it I do,

    Sooo…. oiga, mire, vea…. vengase pa’ Cali para q’ vea….


    • The Dancing Irishman April 10, 2013 at 12:24 pm #

      Yeah there’s loads more I could have added but I wanted to keep it relatively short and sweet. As for football/soccer, I just wanted to make it clear because there are other types of football (like american football in the states and gaelic football in Ireland).
      The banana in the soup is another thing that I do here too but I still don’t get it hahaha!

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