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@radiobrendan
We’ve written here before that you can never become too relaxed going about your daily business in Colombia. Let the guard down briefly in terms of watching your personal belongings and there’s a high chance somebody will be on hand to take advantage.

In the almost six years that Bogotá has been our base, we’ve had a few face-to-face run-ins with thieves. Most of these incidents were down to our own risk taking, at times buoyed up on Dutch courage, doing things that others might see as outright stupidity.

The Catholic Church, Tocaima, Cundinamarca, Colombia.

A house of thieves?

On only three occasions — three too many albeit — have we been robbed clandestinely: the ‘quintessential’ ‘dando papaya’, that annoying phrase here that seems to blame the victim for allowing the crime happen. Whatever about being confronted by knife-wielding thugs, letting yourself be robbed by somebody who sneakily takes something out of your pocket, bigger fool you, eh?

That aside, the lamentable thing in all of this is that it happens. That people, remorselessly so it seems, take another individual’s belongings at the slightest opportunity.

Yes, we can’t talk about this without referring to the poverty that many who do resort to theft find themselves in, as well as a myriad of other social problems that they have to contend with.

Many also point to the corruption, nepotism and ‘what have you’ of the better-off types running the show as justification for illegal acts. (Alas, it’s the hard-pressed working classes that tend to get shafted more than most, be it from politicians or underground criminals.)

Now it’s not just Colombia we’re on about here. The same can be said for a host of countries, but ones with an important connection.

That’s because if we look at global stats on robberies — difficult as it is to get a true picture for various reasons — alongside anecdotal evidence and personal experience, this temptation to steal from others appears more prevalent in countries with a strong Christian, more specifically Catholic, background. Make the sign of the cross before and after your immoral act and all will be fine. (To be extra sure you could say a prayer or two for forgiveness from the ‘Almighty’.)

Across the Middle East and Asia, where you have people in even greater poverty, especially so in Asia, than what you’ll find in Latin America never mind Europe, this thieving mentality seems to be far weaker.

From a Middle Eastern perspective, it could be said this comes down to strong, what some might consider inhumane deterrents in some countries; or at least the threat of them.

Certainly in Catholic/Christian countries many are quick to talk about human rights in this regard, yet aren’t as vociferous about human responsibilities. Punishments for petty crimes such as theft usually amount to nothing; a slap on the wrist and off you go.

Now we’re not asking for extremes such as cutting off that wrist, but how about a 21st-century version of the chain gang? Something like a fenced-off area in a rural location where convicted thieves can grow their own food and learn to become self-sufficient (and work). Just a thought; there are variants on the theme.

Effective deterrents aside, there also seems to be something else at play. In general this appears to be bad schooling, where it seems taking advantage of somebody else is seen as a better quality than helping another person.

Whatever the case, the thieving mentality isn’t going to dissipate any moment soon. For the time being, it’s a case of being on high alert at all times.
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PERFIL
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La vida en Colombia desde la perspectiva de un periodista y locutor Irlandés, quien ha estado viviendo en el país desde 2011. El blog explora temas sociales y cultura, interacción con los nativos, viajes, actualidades y mucho más. 'El hermano' blog es www.wwcorrigan.blogspot.com.

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  1. Refocusing the energy | Blogs El Tiempo

    […] the most important of exercises of late. (Having my laptop stolen has also played its part; you can just never switch off in these […]

  2. juanitatoroo0525

    I disagree, because your title is talking about religion: Catholics (means people following a religion). Generalizations are offensive and create divisions also hard feelings. You just use “The thieving Catholics” as a tittle, so don’t expect everybody agree (doesn’t matter your good intentions to show the point: that specific bad Colombian behaviour). In this article, you are talking about Catholics but a person is more than that, even more than a race, nationality, language or another condition. Conducts are personal choices not stereotypes. Sadly those whom you are talking about even are not reading this blog neither all these arguments… so…

  3. juanitatoroo0525

    This article is focused in Catholics… and what about Muslims killing innocents in the name of their god. So, that is not a shame? Religious Fundamentalism is not that bad? Of course, bad actions made in the name of god are contradictions but this article is blaming just a segment including good Catholics that already know there are unfaithful believers (evil Catholics). Please stay away of that strategy of generating hate and intolerance. We are aware Colombia is not perfect, actually any country, place o person is not. You have had the fortune to start a good, dignified life as a immigrant in a beautiful (still imperfect) country. You can contribute, don’t be schismatic. We immigrants hate -cultural issues- and -Dar papaya- Is not blaming is just a fact to survive in a place that is different to your original place and you don’t have the power to change everything and everyone as a magician. I personally hate many things of my new place, but my new life is -there- and it is what it is. You can be focused being good guy and talking from your own -good, perfect-actions.

  4. Again you’re right. It’s not only a colombian problem, yes. I firmly believe that one humongous obstacle for us (colombians) to start to walk the path of a positive change, is to accept we are the way we are, to accept that we are not, in general terms, “gente de bien” (it’s difficult to translate this… people of good, I appeal to your spanish). If the majority of colombians were “gente de bien”, the country wouldn’t be in such a predicament, wouldn’t be a nest for criminals, wouldn’t lack justice. Our politicians wouldn’t be corrupted and working for their only benefit. They are the ones who represent what we are,who we are. And that is simply shameful. Having said all that… there are wonderful colombians. There are honest people, who work hard to try to have a decent level of life, in spite of the politicians exploiting those who work the hardest and those who are poor and helpless. There are people with good hearts, and I hope you can also see that. But sadly, those people are not the majority. They are there. I’m sure you know many of them. I wish you have experienced that side of my country. Still… good luck surviving the “dar papaya” mentality.

  5. I absolutely agree with you! Alas… the average colombian, the ignorant one, the one that calls him or herself “good people” because they think they don’t rob (that makes them good people), they think that being catholic is an automatic pass that turns them into “good people”, has the aberrant vice of blaming the victim for everything. This kind of people validate the thieve, the rapist, the kidnapper and the murderer every single time they say “it happened because (the victim) dio papaya”. This is the kind of person who claims that “the respect has to be earned”, without realizing that by this preposterous definition they must, as well, fight to earn a respect that was due to them in the first place, so we horrible humans might be able to co-exist! Nope. They are totally unaware that respect is something you have the right to receive, but that you can lose easily, depending on your behavior, and the way you interact with other living creatures. Yours is an analysis faithful to the colombian “culture”.

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