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[Listen to an audio version of this blog entry here.]
A Venezuelan friend once told me of a saying in her country: ‘The Colombian can never lose.’
This seems to have come, for the most part, from the days when Venezuela was the ostensibly richer, more Western-leaning nation while Colombia was largely viewed as a violent backwater from which many of its citizens found refuge with the neighbours to the east.
The rather desperate Colombians who did business with and settled in Venezuela couldn’t be wholly trusted. They were always trying to get one over their better-off counterparts in the brother country (or perhaps that should be sibling country these days, lest one offend). So the story went anyway.
Needless to say, there’s a lot of generalising in such a viewpoint. As Venezuelans — many of whom are quite desperate — living in Colombia today know only too well, it just takes a few bad types to see the whole group tarred with the same brush.
What’s more, not wanting to lose, doing one’s best to avoid defeat, is in many ways a rather good trait to have. Very often, if one doesn’t stand up for oneself, he/she will be trampled upon.
It must also be noted that some people, simply by virtue of where they were born, start off in life with distinct disadvantages compared to others. They have a lot more obstacles to overcome to get to what one could call a break-even line if we imagine one exists (such comparisons are, though, fraught with complications; there are many variables at play).
‘With the merest break in oncoming traffic, they’ll overtake as many cars as possible, safe in the knowledge that they’ll be able to force their way back into line when the need arises.’
That notwithstanding, all of us, regardless of our situation, suffer losses at some stage in life. How we deal with these setbacks tends to say a lot about our character.
Not only that but in our interconnected, interdependent society, there are certain malignant moments when the greater-good option is to accept our predicament. Wait it out until more favourable conditions present themselves. To do otherwise is not only selfish but it can also endanger one’s own life and that of others.
Alas, human anxiousness to get ahead at all costs can override such judgement — if it exists in the first place that is.
Coming back to the ‘Colombian can never lose’ idea and, I’ll add, ‘to heck with everyone else’, one place where it can be said this does exist without being accused of wild generalising is on the roads.
I’ve written previously about how otherwise kind, mild-mannered locals here turn into complete lunatics when they get behind the wheel (see https://wwcorrigan.blogspot.com/2014/11/como-conduzco-er-not-very-well.html).
Observing this behaviour as a passenger is one thing — frightening as it often can be — but actually entering this high-stakes race as a driver allows one to get a better understanding of the maniac-motorist mindset.
For that idea, think of those rather fatuous Fast and Furious movies — appropriately enough, if you happen to find yourself on a bus with TV screens in Colombia, it’s practically guaranteed that a Fast and Furious flick will be shown.
More specifically, the mentality is ‘not an inch’. That is, if one leaves the slightest space between vehicles, it will be exploited.
Even in a long line of barely moving motors, many drivers believe that their time is all that matters. With the merest break in oncoming traffic, they’ll overtake as many cars as possible, safe in the knowledge that they’ll be able to force their way back into line when the need arises. (Such utter contempt for fellow humans can also be seen in queues at supermarkets and such like.)
In a futile effort to combat this, tailgating is the norm — a vicious circle of sorts. Gradually reducing speed when there’s a red light or slower vehicles ahead appears to be frowned upon. Frantic breaking is what’s expected. When you mix that in with an apparent inability to go through the gears, it’s little wonder cars seem to need more servicing here compared to other places.
So, whilst the Colombian may think that he is “winning” by driving in such a manner, he’s actually losing. Short-term gain, long-term loss. It’s a phrase that sums up many practices in these parts.
Some awareness of others’ needs, plus a bit of empathy, wouldn’t go astray. Indeed, it could be the road to fewer loses and more wins for all interested parties. It’s certainly worth attempting to navigate at least.
Listen to Wrong Way’s Colombia Cast podcast here.