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It’s perhaps stretching it somewhat to say that how people drive gives a true reflection of their personality. This appears even more so the case when otherwise friendly, generally polite people turn into nothing short of aggressive lunatics when they get behind the wheel. A sort of Michael Schumacher in his heyday mixed with The Incredible Hulk, something along those lines.

You’ll get this, what we’ll call character aberration with many Colombians. Nice people in so many facets, yet when they sit into a motorised vehicle they transform into quasi-kamikaze pilots (of course this isn’t unique to here, but we’re looking at it from a Bogotá perspective for this particular piece).

Autopista Norte, Bogotá D.C., Colombia.

It all looks rather peaceful, but it’s not really …

As much as an anomaly as it may seem, it does fit in with one cultural trait, the No dar papaya mentality. Basically, on the highways and byways this manifests itself into ‘I shall not give an inch of space because if I do, there’ll be somebody waiting to take full, merciless advantage.’

Hence the driving at breakneck speed up to a vehicle stopped ahead or traffic lights that have been clearly red for some time. ‘What?! Go through the gears and slow down gradually. You must be mad! We’ll be overtaken by all and sundry.” The sad part is, this is true.

It’s usually the privately-owned public service vehicles — the few old-style buses that are still plying their trade and the yellow taxis — that are seen as the chief culprits in this. They’re certainly masters of it, but the drivers of the public-private transport system, the Transmilenio and SITP, are no slouches either. ‘To heck what you paying passengers think, you’re in my reckless hands now guys.’ (A note on the taxi drivers here: Some get themselves into a hissy fit if you don’t close the door in the calm manner they want, an almost impossible feat, yet they proceed to drive the car like a weapon of mass destruction.)

Now whatever about not respecting your fellow warrior motorists, those also behind the ‘comfort’ of metal and glass that is, giving scant regard to those on foot is taking it to another level. Either we’ve many colour blind drivers here (that would explain a lot) or they just don’t really care about those annoying human obstacles trying to cross the street, regardless whether the pedestrians have the right of way or not. Unfortunately it’s more the latter case.

Didn’t you know the streets are first and foremost motorist territory? No? Well you’d better learn quickly.

For sure, drivers here have genuine grievances; there’s the very poor state of many of the main arteries, a lack of efficient traffic management and security issues, to name some of those problems. In such an environment, we can understand a bit of road rage, to a point.

Yet some motorists could try bringing just a modicum of that more laid-back nature they have in other facets of life when they go driving. Both your vehicle and other road users will thank you for it.
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La vida en Colombia desde la perspectiva de un periodista y locutor irlandés, quien ha vivido en el país desde 2011. El blog explora temas sociales y culturales, interacción con los nativos, viajes, actualidades y mucho más. Escucha su podcast acá: https://anchor.fm/brendan-corrigan.

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  1. Brendan: The way we drive is the way we live and think.Every Colombian believe we are very smart, and following rules and laws are stupid as long as you don’t get caught. Have you ever asked yourself why you have 10 minutes to leave a parking lot after you pay? Yes, people used to pay the fare and then leave 2 hours after paying. Very smart ah? The worst is that those people complain about government corruption.

    • beforechrist

      True Carolina. But of course such practices aren’t unique to Colombia. There are plenty in my own country who seem not to notice (or ‘care about’ is probably more accurate) the double standards they apply. One example is social welfare fraud, people saying they have no work to get money from the state while at the same time working in jobs where they don’t pay taxes.
      Lots of people are quick to talk about their rights, yet somewhat slower to realise their responsibilities …

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