Paisa Culture: 6 Observations on Life in Antioquia

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One of my favorite pieces of art at the Museo de Antioquia
One of my favorite pieces of art at the Museo de Antioquia (photo: David Lee)

The same questions come up, over and over again.

The women are beautiful and it’s easy to pick one up if you’re an American, right?

Isn’t it dangerous there?

Aren’t there a lot of drugs?

I’ve heard they like to party there, but is there anything else to do?

Oh, boy.

Let me first say that I am not a paísa, so I know I cannot speak to the culture of Medellín as well as the native people can. But during the three months I have lived in La Ciudad de la Eterna Primavera, I have spent a lot of time with the paísas.

I don’t know if I’ve spent more time with them or made more paísa friends than the average foreigner. But I know this: compared to all but one of my roommates, I definitely have.

So as I sit here in South Florida, thinking about the good times I have had there and the good times that lie ahead when I get back, I’m going to set the record straight on what I’ve learned from my paísa friends, who have been very open and honest with me, and have come to treat me like family.

1. Yes, the women are beautiful

That’s cliché at this point. But those stories you hear about them looking for a gringo, either because he’s a means to money or a Visa, is only partially true.

You need to realize that Medellín is a big city, so, yes, there are women here who want gringos for their money or for a path to citizenship overseas, and there are even “dating agencies” that make this happen.

But the majority of the women here are everyday folks just trying to live a comfortable life. They are very happy here and cannot imagine living elsewhere.

The lesson: don’t objectify all of the women here, and don’t expect them to fall all over you because you are a gringo.

Something else to remember: there are women who want men for their money wherever it is you live too, but that doesn’t mean that’s all of them.

2. It’s only dangerous if you’re an idiot

Use common sense, and you are probably going to be fine.

  • Avoid wearing flashy clothes, watches and jewelry.
  • Keep your iPhone and your Blackberry in your pocket.
  • Go places in a group if you don’t have the common paísa features (average height, dark hair, light skin).
  • Call a cab if you have to go far.
  • Stay in neighborhoods where a lot of businesses are open and a lot of people are around.

It’s not difficult. I have not had one person bother me, and I walk around by myself all the time, even at night. But I have paísa features.

Like my friend Juanes says, “If you don’t talk, they won’t know.”

3. Of course there are drugs here

Marijuana and cocaine are produced here. But you have to ask yourself: why are they produced?

Anyone who has taken an economics class knows about supply and demand. Without demand, there’s no supply. And the demand comes from the gringos.

The point I’m trying to make is, don’t look for drugs and you won’t even notice they’re produced in this country.

Paisa girls
Paisa girls

4. Paísas are nice, but don’t take it for granted

They really are some of the warmest people you will ever meet. I’m from Hawaii so I know about those things.

But whatever you do, always show appreciation for their hospitality and wait until you get to know them before you inundate them with your own culture, especially if you’re an American.

When a paísa first meets you and takes the time to get to know you, answer their questions thoughtfully. Don’t be a smart ass, don’t even be facetious. It’s disrespectful.

As you become better friends with the paísas, the banter will follow. Trust me. I’m on the receiving end of it a lot of the time. But it’s all in fun. Lots of laughs.

5. Paísas like to party too, but don’t stereotype them only as party animals

There’s a lot more to them. They are hard workers and they are some of the most entrepreneurial people in the world. They’re very intelligent, or “teso” as they would say.

Some of the most innovative laser eye surgery is the product of paísas. And when you see all the small businesses, a lot of them with their own niche, you’ll understand what I’m saying.

And there is a lot to see other than bars and clubs. Go to a museum. The Museo de Antioquia, home to some of Fernando Botero’s famous artwork, is a good place to start.

You can also get out of the city too, to see beautiful countryside locals such as Guatapé or Parque Arví. They’re only a bus ride or Metro Cable lift away.

6. Be patient with the pace of life

It’s unique. I can’t say it’s slow because I’ve been in the hustle and bustle of downtown Medellín.

But I can’t say it’s fast because things can take longer than usual and it’s not unusual for plans or meetings to fall through.

I guess the best way to describe it is, it’s like driving a stick shift for the first time: sometimes you dart ahead, other times you stall.

Just always remember that most of the paísas mean well and if you get pushy, you won’t get anywhere. The word to remember is “tranquilo.” Relax.

Now excuse me while I get back to my longing over Medellín…

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12 COMMENTS

  1. I am married to a paísa, have lived in the Medellín area for three years and am a legal resident of Colombia and I can say that this is spot on. Nice observation Ryan.

    • thanks kevin. i still get asked those questions so much. when i was in florida, a couple of people asked if i had bodyguards down here. i told them i feel safer here than i did in washington, dc.

  2. I love when you focus on people since it’s, perhaps, Medellín’s best attraction. Personally when I travel I always enjoy more the “people” than the “place” itself.

    Greetings!

  3. I heard a lot of stories about the place. They say it is cool. The people are nice if you are nice to them and it is not dangerous if you follow what Ryan said. Do not show off whatever you have to avoid attracting too much attention and you will generally be fine.

  4. Ryan, Fantastic review of Medellin, and I’m amazed that you’re absolutely right in your assertion that you look paisa, lol, perhaps like 93-95%… that’s so funny.