First of all let me just say I am overwhelmed by the response to this blog. I had no idea so many people would read it and all the positive comments motivates me to write more. Before writing about other things I have experienced I want to say something about the Venezuelan people. It is hard to describe an entire people and generalizations will never be true for everyone. Nevertheless I want to describe Venezuelans the best way I can without being neither mean nor biased. These characterizations are based on subjective generalizations and personal experiences from living in Venezuela. I don’t think this will offend the Venezuelans, as they are not easily offended…
First of all I have to say that Venezuelans are unusually friendly. I mean, you will get friends in Venezuela whether you want it or not. Everywhere you go people want to talk to you, help you and get to know you. The comments on this blog is a good example, thank you! Venezuelans are extremely easy going and it does not take more than one hour or two before you are invited to the family reunion next weekend. This friendliness is genuine because the invitation is not just words; you are actually welcome at the family reunion.
Venezuelans are helpful, extremely helpful. Everywhere I go people offer their help with anything from where to have dinner, places to see or where to go dancing. This helpfulness can easily feel too much for someone who is used to people minding their own business. I was with a friend at a restaurant and all I wanted was french fries. The man at the table next to us heard this and could not understand why I would not order something else because there was so much good food to try. He started explaining me the menu and calling the waitress to explain me the day’s specialties. I sat there confused wondering why on earth it mattered for them what I ordered. I just wanted french fries! Even my friend joined them trying to convince me to order more food. I really started to laugh because I could not understand this sudden interest for my food order. In Norway people would be really annoyed by this, but here in Venezuela I have understood that people just want to help you (especially when you are a foreigner).
It might be because of the heat that Venezuelans are warm and loving people. This is noticeable when they meet a friend on the street. Hugs and kisses are exchanged before they start talking and when they say goodbye hugs and kisses are exchanged again. This is normal in many parts of the world, but what I find interesting is that you don’t have to know a person more than half a minute before they start giving you kisses on the cheek. And even if the conversation is only a minute or two, and you just gave the person a kiss a minute or two ago, you always give them a kiss when you say goodbye. In other words; Venezuelans are not scared of physical contact and there is absolutely no respect for each other’s personal space. In fact, I am not sure if Venezuelans have such a thing as personal space. I am used to this now, but I know some of my Norwegian friends would be seriously uncomfortable being kissed by a person they only met for a few minutes.
Venezuelans are funny and laughing. There is a saying in Norway that a “good laugh makes you live longer”. In that case I think I will live forever after living in Venezuela. People make a joke out of everything, even the more serious parts of life. Many of my friends have a funny “the time I got robbed” story. Serious things are made into a joke all the time and I am not sure if it is a good or a bad thing. In one way I guess it is a way of surviving the craziness, but in another way it is kind of sad. Anyways, Venezuelans does not take themselves very seriously, which I love. They make fun at each other’s expense, but it is never in a hostile way. My friend’s grandmother (which I had met for 30 minutes) called me fat, so I have learned not to be easily offended over here.
There is one characteristic there is just no way around… Venezuelans (at least compared to Norwegians) are disorganized, very disorganized. I don’t know if people use agendas here, but I would assume not. And if things are planned, they hardly ever turn out the way they were supposing to. I have a theory that my Venezuelan friends suffer from short-term memory loss. I asked my friend: ”Can you call the taxi?” and he said “ yes”, but 2 minutes later… “Did you call the taxi?” “Oh no I forgot!” This happens all the time and I can’t help laughing about how unfocused people here can be. Maybe this is also due to the heat, what do I know. All I know is that when it comes to organizing things I am very different from my friends here. They had a good laugh at me when the first thing I did when we got to Margarita was unpacking all my things, which is the most natural thing in the world for me to do.
In Norway people really enjoy the peace and quiet. Even in the biggest cities there is less noise than most places in Venezuela, because Venezuelans are loud. People raise their voices not only when arguing, but in normal conversations too. There is no norm for being quiet on the bus, in an airplane, at the movies, in restaurants or at the museum. On the plane my friend started to play music from her speaker and I immediately thought what on earth is she doing. In Norway the cabin crew would ask her to turn it off right a way, but here nobody seemed to mind. There is also music everywhere in Venezuela and the music is loud, always! I was on a bus to Mérida with a bunch of AIESEC people and the music was of course very loud, but the music continued being loud even at 3am at night when everyone was sleeping! How on earth can people sleep with music so loud and why did it continue being so loud??! I guess people are just used to things being extremely loud, all the time!
There are many things Venezuelans are passionate about, but most of all they are passionate about their food. I have never met people who get more excited about food than Venezuelans; they are truly a food-loving nation. People ask me every day if I have tried arepas, empanadas or pepitos (yes I do like it a lot). When you talk to Venezuelans about food there is a change of tone in their voice and if you give Venezuelans food they will be your friend for ever.
This characteristic is true for all Venezuelans I have met. They are late! Of course not every time, but definitely more than what I am used to at home. How can somebody who lives 15 minutes away be “on his way” for three hours? I find this incredible, but I have gotten used to it and I always have a plan A, B, C and D. Things never start on time, this includes everything from meeting your friends, watching a movie or going to a dance class. I now use a system with my friends where we specify if we will be there in Venezuelan minutes or Norwegian minutes, this works pretty well.
As a consequence of this Venezuelans are somewhat patient because there is a lot of waiting. Waiting for people, waiting in the bank, waiting in traffic, waiting, waiting and waiting. But it is not that bad because you can always make some new friends while waiting for something.
Venezuelans loves a party; they are party people! There is always something to be celebrated and if there is nothing to celebrate they will find some reason why there should be a party. The best example is when a baby is born. Let me just say that when a baby is born in Norway it is only the closest family who gets to visit at the hospital and not too many people at the same time. I have been told that in Venezuela this is not the case. When a baby is born the entire family comes to the hospital and people drink whiskey to celebrate. I find this hysterically funny and imagine the scenario if people drank alcohol in the hospital in Norway. It would probably reach the newspapers…
The way people party is also very different from what I am used to; there is dancing all the time! Venezuelans are dancers, and great ones too! I have absolutely fallen in love with this culture of dancing. I am not saying Norwegians don’t dance, we do, but we feel more comfortable doing it after 5…6…7 beers. In Venezuela you can dance wherever you want and it does not matter how good you are (thank God). I have to say I was rather embarrassed when my friends were teaching me to dance at a bar where there were no other people dancing, but now I dance wherever I hear music. Why would people bother paying for a gym membership when they can just go dancing with Venezuelans? It is one of my favorite things to do in Venezuela and I am going to start a dance revolution when I come back to Norway in the summer! My people NEEDS to learn how to dance, it is the best therapy for everything.
Another thing I find amusing as well as a little bit sad is that Venezuelans tend to be rule-breaking. People might not always realize that they are breaking the rules because it is so common to do it. It can be anything from driving without seatbelt, smoking places you cannot smoke, being 13 people in a small car, going places you are not suppose to go, but also more serious things as paying the police (which sadly is a common thing to do). Most of the time this is just amusing for a foreigner and I have laughed a lot about several situations where people seriously just don’t give a shit about the rules, even the ones who made them. At the plane I was sleeping across the three seats and not even when we were landing did the cabin crew ask me to sit up and take on my seat belt. Another day I was walking on the sidewalk and heard a honk behind me. I moved over and what passed me on the sidewalk was not only a motorbike, but a police motorbike. Come on! I laughed so much while my friends were just watching me wondering what was so funny. There are so many of these stories and for Venezuelans this might not be so shocking, but for me this is absurd.
Venezuelans talk, a lot! They are so talkative that it makes my mother seem quiet. People talk to each other everywhere about everything. This means that people are oversharing, which mean to tell people things they want to know, don’t want to know, what people needs to know and things they definitely don’t need to know. By the time you are done at the hairdresser you know the life story not only of the hairdresser, but the lady next to you and the postman who just stopped by with some mail. My friend was on the bus and the driver started talking to her. This is not unusual, but maybe it wasn’t necessary to tell her that he had killed two people while driving the bus…
Venezuelans are believers. Most people are catholic, but people also believe in different spiritual things. When I told people I was going to “Sorte” (a spiritual mountain) to watch the celebrations of Maria Lionza there were a lot of people saying I should not go there because there was a chance of black magic. It is also not unusual to believe in a thing called “Cereno” which is something bad babies can get if you visit them after dark (or something). There are a lot of celebrations of the Virgin Mary and I will write about that later, but I do find it a little funny that people leave their relatives’ ash in a virgin cave together with a bottle on rum…
Venezuelans are very political. There is hardly a conversation where politics are not mentioned. I do not want to write too much about this because I don’t understand the situation completely, but the Venezuelan people are definitely very polarized because of this.
Not one day goes by without someone is negotiation about something. Venezuelans are negotiating and therefore also convincing. There is a negotiation or an argument about everything from taxi prices, who was first in line, whether or not the moon is full or about your grades at school. One of the most important skills you can have in Venezuela is the ability to convince people. For example if a friend does not want to join you partying it might not take too much effort before they change their minds. You can negotiate everything, always!
Venezuelans have an incredible ability to stay relaxed despite the society being so chaotic. People are very chill, especially when it comes to time and plans. This has been one of the most difficult things to adjust to because in Norway we are punctual and reliable when it comes to appointments. In Venezuela people have a very relaxed relationship towards time and even though they are one hour late there is absolutely no reason to stress.
I just heard that Venezuela is among the top ten countries where it is easy to start a business. This is visible everywhere, Venezuelans are entrepreneurs. Having a business does not have to mean a big office and a lot of employees. It can mean a table, a chair, an umbrella and a phone.
The last characteristic I want to mention in this way too long post is that Venezuelans are happy! In fact they are ranked as the 20th happiest country in the world. Taken into consideration the slightly chaotic society, lack of some important groceries, holes in the sidewalk and other things this is remarkable. I am truly amazed by their ability to move on when something bad happens and I hope I can bring this skill back to Norway. A good example of this was when we went to the beach. The last day (of two) we wanted to go some hours to the beach before we returned to Barquisimeto. As so many times it did not go as planned because when we woke up it was raining so hard that the whole room was covered in water. I can only imagine if this would happen in Norway, people would be complaining about this for about one week. In Venezuela on the other hand this was not the case. As we woke up all the Europeans cursed because we really wanted to go to the beach. The Venezuelans on the other hand just looked outside and said, “well there is nothing to do about this, didn’t we have a box of beer left?” Instead of focusing on the lost day at the beach we drank beer, put on some music, started to dance and were happy as ever. That is what I like to call the Venezuelan spirit!