Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Mostly Back in the Swing of Things

Well, it was a rather unpleasant Thanksgiving afterall. I ended up coming down with a particularly nasty viral infection in my intestines that I am still fighting. I was out of commission for over a week and I still have lingering fatigue and exhaustion. I lost about 12 pounds in 5 days, so that pretty much tells the story.

At any rate, I'm back at Spanish class and teaching english (unfortunately) and I'm still waiting for the job to come through. I've filed all the paperwork they asked for, now I'm just waiting for a salary offer. I've been told that it should come through either this week or next (probably next). And, I've given notice at my english institute meaning that my last day teaching will be Dec 15th (and this Friday is a holiday!).

I think you pretty much know that english teaching isn't for you when you spend the majority of your pre-class thought process planning ways that the student won't show up or will be late. In fact, I can say unequivocally that teaching english is one of the least pleasurable jobs I've had. That's not to say it's horrible. It's just a real pain in the ass and, for the most part, boring as hell.

For example, one thing I absolutely hate about teaching english is that about half my classes are outside of the office. Instead, they're either in the student's office or their home. Normally, it's not too difficult to find the student's office. Pain in the ass, yes, difficult no. However, I can't express enough just how aggravating it is to go to a student's house. I've spend hours looking for houses that are ridiculously difficult to find. Part of this is Bogota's fault and part is the student's fault.

The city is in the process of renumbering all of its streets and buildings. Sometimes, like on our apartment, the numbers change very slightly (116#29 to 116#22); other times, the numbers change radically. The students, who are almost evenly divided between rich jackasses or rich nice people (but always rich), rarely put down the new number for their building, leaving teachers like me (i.e. foreigners) struggling to find their address. When we end up arriving late, the students are invariably bent out of shape about it, even though IT'S THEIR FAULT because they gave us the wrong damn address. (One time it was wrong by an order of 15 city blocks!)

Now I have pretty good relation management skills, so I rarely have a problem with my students even if I am late. After informing them that the address they gave us is incorrect, we find a solution (half of a class, for example) and move on. This includes the jackass who has a ridiculously difficult to find house and refused to allow me upstairs to even discuss the problem with him. Five minutes of talking on the phone while making him look like the foolish jackass that he is pretty much guilted him into having 1 hour of class instead of 1.5 hours.

As frustrating as that experience was (and trust me, I was ready to start cursing this particular fool out), I think the problem is a little more systemic. In fact, I think the problem is a bit specific to Colombian or Latino culture. See, Colombia is a service country. The people generally don't lift a damn finger to help anyone who is providing them a service. When they want to catch a bus, even if the damn thing stops 5 feet from them, they wait until it moves to just in front of them so they don't have to demean themselves by actually moving a bit of ass. Or, if a store clerk is overloaded with a Colombian's would be purchases, said customer will idly watch the clerk struggle instead of offering to lift one finger of help. Frankly, it's damn rude and it's something I absolutely abhor about Colombia.

All of this is damn ironic too, given the Tu and Usted forms of "you". The language is inherently polite, but the people are generally rude. Of course, the irony extends to another level as well. Colombians are generally among the nicest and most welcoming in the world if you are invited to their house or introduced by a friend. But if your a stranger, you can go F yourself. Go figure.

At any rate, as I currently work in a service capacity, I run into this attitude more often than not and it's enough to drive me batty. At some point I just want to say, "Piss off then. I really don't give a damn if you learn english or not!" And let's face it, I'm not exactly raking in top Peso here. I certainly don't get paid enough to put up with some of the nonsense that I've seen on this job.

Of course, I think all of this is really about an evolutionary process that is rather new here in Colombia. And by that, I'm referring to the evolution of good manners. I have a theory about this. I think that the older the civilization, the better the manners. The British, for example, are widely heralded as the best mannered in the world, but they've got over a thousand years of practice. Or Asian culture, for example, is extremely old and, coincidentally, well mannered.

Colombia, however, is still early in this process. One example that I think speaks volumes is passenger behavior on the Transmilenio. Now, I ride the city's bus system quite a bit because it's the easiest way for me to get to Javeriana and will be the easiest way to get to my new job as well. So, I see a lot of different types of people.

But, no matter the social status, people pretty much behave the same. Here are 7 easy steps to follow if you want to fit in with the usual bad behavior:

1. Always stand directly in front of the doors to the bus, even when you don't want to get on that bus. This has the lovely effect of preventing anyone from exiting or entering the bus.

2. Get bent out of shape when someone pushes you out of the way because you've positioned your waste of oxygen body in front of said door.

3. Forceably push your way onto a bus even when other people are trying to exit and when you get pushed around, see #2.

4. Never move out of anyone's way, even when they politely say, "permiso" or "discupla". But do give them a slightly disinterested glance that says, "go f*ck yourself, I'm not moving".

5. Never move to the center of the bus and always crowd the door even if you're not getting off for 15 stops. This is great because this causes most of the buses to be extremely crowded at each door, but mostly empty between doors. The cumulative effect is that the buses seem more crowded, carry less passengers, and your trip is much more uncomfortable.

6. Never give up your seat for an elderly or pregnant person, at least not until your guilted into it by your fellow passengers.

7. Always push as hard as you can to get on a jam packed bus, even when there's another bus directly behind that is mostly empty. Bonus points for being an elderly woman with a neck brace that pushes like a linebacker and jammers with unceasing anger that no one will let you on the bus. (Then again, that woman might have just been totally insane.)

At any rate, I find the whole process unpleasant. Fortunately, my new job is relatively close to home so I won't have too many stops when I take Transmilenio.

However, the bus system is only part of the problem. I've spent a lot of time getting to know Colombia and its culture and I'm not exaggerating when I say that some things that go on here really bother me at a core level. The flagrant disregard of the public for anything and everything resembling manners is only part of it. There's also a complete disregard for people who are in need - whether it's long term, systemic poverty type need, or someone getting assaulted on the street. The people here either just don't care, are too numbed by violence and poverty, or are too afraid to lift a finger.

This problem manifests itself in all parts of Colombian culture. In stores, when driving a car or taking a bus, in the streets, and any other place you can imagine. My wife says that "Colombians aren't team players." I say that Colombians are generally selfish. It's a me first world to the exclusion of everyone else.

I've seen that attitude before in the US and in Europe. It's not uniquely Colombian. But here I feel it in a more pronounced way. It's worse, to me, than I've found before. And if there wasn't any other reason, I believe this is the one that would drive me from this country some day. I'm just getting tired of it.

At any rate, I'm feeling a bit fatigued now and since I have class in 2 hours, I'd best do a bit of Spanish homework. And since I don't want to bitch too much in one post, I'll save my complaints about my Spanish course for next time.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

You will find those seven steps are followed perfectly here in DC, go figure? Maybe it is a bus thing.

11:07 PM  

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