The Workout Culture

When I came to Venezuela I quickly realized that I would eat a lot. I mean…. the food here is great, unhealthy, but great. When you live here for a while you forget how crazy it is to eat a deep fried empanada with a Malta (this cannot be explained use Google) for breakfast. It is simply impossible not to love it (except the Malta, that thing is still disturbing to me). Because of this I thought it was a good idea to join a gym avoiding becoming too chubby (and no, not eating empanada, arepas, pepitos was not an option). After some language trouble I had paid for my gym membership. I was really excited for my first time where I was going to work out with a trainer before going to a Salsa Casino class. All alone I went into the gym and immediately realized that this was going to be very different from the gym-culture at home.

The first thing I noticed was that everyone seemed to have spent the previous hour in front of the mirror or at the beauty salon. I am not only talking about the girls… When I go to the gym I take OFF the make up and put on some random workout clothes. In the Venezuelan gym this is not the case for sure. The guys all wore tight tank tops and used every spear moment flexing in the mirror or taking photos with their phone. The girls were also really into taking photos of their workout session. I guess it does not count if the rest of the world does not know you went to the gym.

Second… I have never seen so many fake boobs (and buts) at the same place before. Don’t get me wrong I am not judging, but it was like gravity did not exist. As I looked around I understood that I was the one who looked different with my makeup-free face, a sloppy t-shirt and some old tights. Most of the girls were wearing tiny shorts, a tight top or just the sports bra and then they had a huge belt thing in the middle that made their waist look non-excising. It looked really painful and maybe it has a purpose, but I had never seen something like that before.

Nevertheless, people were so friendly towards me (even with my lame outfit). While waiting for a machine to be free a girl talked to me, asked where I was from and as always they told me if I needed anything I should let her know. Again, making friends in Venezuela is so easy and I love it. Waiting for the Salsa Casino class to start I asked the instructor if the class was hard for someone who did not know how to dance salsa. The answer I got was: “no no no, muy facil”. That’s great, I thought, and was excited to learn some dancing (even though I looked like an hobo compared to the other girls in the class). When the class started (only 30 minutes late) I momentarily realized that “no no no muy facil” was a big fat lie. Oh how I laugh at the though of me trying to follow the dance steps in a crowd where everyone knew what they were doing. And to make this experience more embarrassing… the room did not have closed walls but rather glass walls so the entire gym could watch the dancing class.

Walking out of the gym all I could do was laugh about how misplaced I felt and that the gym thing might not be my thing over here. And so it was until a few weeks ago. I decided that I would give the workout culture here another try so I started outdoor crossfit. I am still not sure why I am doing this to my self because I am almost dying every time (and the coach is scary), but the culture in this group is more what I am used to at home. More people with what I consider “normal” workout clothes, without fake lashes and less posting on instagram.

In Norway I often get the feeling that people are looking at each other at the gym, judging what you do and how you look. In a group class in Norway you talk to your friends and not to the stranger next to you. In Venezuela people are not so serious, they are joking with each other during class and of course you can easily make some new friends if you want. From the first time I went to class people were so welcoming that some days I feel like going there just because of the nice people. The only thing that is a mystery to me is why I am the only one looking like a lobster after class… maybe Venezuelans are just created beautiful no matter what they do 😉

Workout

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The Dancing Culture

First of all, it is good to be back in Barquisimeto. My friends met me at the airport and of course we sat squeezed five people in the back of the car driving to my place. How I love having some sun against my skin again, the loud music on Ruta 4 and eating an empanada on my way to work. Today we are going dancing, finally! In that occasion I though I might share my first experiences with the Venezuelan dancing culture.

At first I was very embarrassed when my friends pulled me out on the dance floor here in Venezuela. There are several reasons for this. First of all because I was sober. In Norway I usually don’t dance in public before I am at least a little tipsy. I think many of my friends back home feel the same way. Second because I can’t dance! At least compared to my Venezuelan friends who made it look so easy. Third because we were the only people in the bar dancing. It felt like everyone in the bar was watching the “Gringa” dance. It took me some weeks before I realized that it doesn’t matter if you know how to dance or not, as long as you have fun. Also, Venezuelans love it when foreigners try to dance. Maybe it is because they think we look funny. Or maybe it is just because they want us to understand how amazing dancing is. I think we are often a little bit too self-centered thinking that everyone is always watching us.

In Norway we mostly dance individually jumping up and down screaming to the music. After some beers we might try something more fancy, but nothing like here. There are a few places in Norway where you can dance like here, but I am talking about in a normal club/bar young people would go to. I have friends at home with good rhythms and I think they would like going out here in Venezuela. As we Norwegians mostly dance in front of each other, Venezuelans dance with each other. And there are many different ways to dance, not just jumping up and down.

I found out pretty fast that Salsa is hard as hell and I think with my Norwegian body I will never be able to learn it. Yes, I have given up already. When they put on Salsa I sit down and watch the people who knows how to do it. What an amazing sight how people makes it seem like the easiest thing in the world. Merengue, on the other hand, is more doable. At least when you have patient friends who doesn’t mind you stepping on their feet, and always making the wrong turns. And then there is Reggeton…

The first time I was at a club I tried not to look uncomfortable when a bunch of strangers basically humped me, like that was the most natural thing in the world! It was unbelievable how comfortable people were with dancing really sexy with everyone. If you dance like that with someone in Norway, it most likely means that you are going to hook up (also a generalization, but we just don’t dance like that with anyone). In Venezuela this is just another way of dancing and it doesn’t have to mean anything else than having fun. I tried my best to dance like the others, but failed when I tried to go ‘down down down’ and could not get up again. I am still laughing at the thought of it. Also, I was exhausted after 30 minutes! I realized that this must be the reason why everyone can eat so much without being really fat because my friends just kept dancing for hours and hours. And when I thought I could not look more stupid they put on Tambores; this drum dance where you have to shake everything you have in a circle until another person takes over your partner. After one song I had muscle cramps all over and had to sit down for an hour.

I am truly amazed how everyone can dance here. Even my friends, who say they cannot dance, believe me they can. Three months have passed and I think my dancing has improved at least a little bit. I am definitely not shy anymore when it comes to dancing and I dance whenever there is a chance, which is basically always here in Venezuela.

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The Reversed Culture Shock

Most of you probably don’t know that I have been the last three weeks in Norway for Christmas vacation, but I am on the plane back to Venezuela now. I tried to sit down and write at home, but I decided I wanted to spend my time with friends and family instead. I am sure the family-orientated Venezuelan will sympathize with this decision.

According to some of the comments made on this blog I have to be crazy leaving the safety in Norway for a bit more insecure Venezuela. Maybe the answer is yes, but I am not done discovering all Venezuela has to offer and I am not done working as a teacher. I am not done eating pepitos at 3am and arepas any time of the day. I am not done meeting friendly Venezuelans and I am definitely not done travelling the country. Many people have asked why on earth I am in Venezuela; in fact this is one of the most frequent asked questions when I talk to people. People seem surprised why I am here and I will try my best to explain.

I actually did not really choose Venezuela. Venezuela chose me, and for that I am forever grateful. I wanted to do an internship in South America to practice my Spanish and explore the famous Latin culture, but I did not really have any preferences where. As I searched the AIESEC database for opportunities I received an e-mail about an internship in Barquisimeto. I applied, got the job and before I knew it I was moving to Venezuela. That is why I am in Venezuela and could not be happier about it.

Venezuela? What did I know about Venezuela? I have to admit, my knowledge of this country were not impressive. For some reason I did not do much research either so I might have my self to blame for the massive cultural shock that waited me. Nevertheless I am very happy to be on my way back to Barquisimeto for five more exciting months, but while I was I Norway I experienced a little bit of a “reversed culture shock”. Maybe it sounds strange because I had not been away more than three months, but there was many situations where I had to laugh about my new Venezuelan mindset (which does not match the Norwegian).

First of all it was so cold, even though this was the mildest winter we have had in years in Oslo. The lowest temperature was -3C while I was back, which is hot compared to last year’s -20C. There was no snow either, but I did not complain (don’t worry be happy right?) Second, nothing had really changed at home, while I was feeling like a totally different person. I looked at my own culture with new glasses and realized things I had not thought about before. I will try to give some examples.

On a Norwegian bus the only loud reggeton you will hear is on your I-pod. There is no music on any public transportation and it was so quiet I felt almost awkward. A girl sat down next to me and I thought how strange it was to know with 99% certainty that she would not start talking to me. She looked straight forward avoiding any chance of eye contact. And as the double seat next to me got available she actually moved over there. People in this bus acted like they would get deadly diseases sitting next to each other. I felt the urge to just sit down next to someone and start talking to them about random things, but I know this would make Norwegians extremely uncomfortable. The thought of their reaction, on the other hand, amused me enough to laugh a little by my self there I sat looking at this typical Norwegian behavior.

Some days into the vacation I was going out with some friends. It is very normal to have a “pre-party” at someone’s house before going out because the alcohol prizes are very high. In this pre-party we talk, sing and when getting drunk we start dancing. I tried to put on some merengue and reggeton, but without much success. How I missed having a Latin companion at that moment, but I did a bit of dancing by my self to my friend’s amusement. When the taxi arrived there was enough space for everyone to sit really comfortable and I though we should maybe pick up some people along the way to fill it up properly, but decided not to. The taxi driver would not let my friend bring her “Cuba Libre” drink (with Venezuelan rum of course) into the car and I felt the sudden urge to use my newly developed negotiation skills, but once again I decided not to. In a bar Norwegians like to sit down, drink, talk and eventually scream really loud to the lyrics. Not before midnight are there any action on the dance floor and the movements mostly consist of one hand lifted to the sky pumping in tact with the music. I am exaggerating a little bit here, but compared to the dancing culture in Venezuela this was depressing stuff. Regardless I had fun with my friends and Norwegian beer tasted delicious compared to the water-like-tasting beer in Venezuela (sorry, no offence I do like the green one).

At home we had visitors from New York, Australia and Amsterdam as well as some other Norwegians living in my parents apartment. In Venezuela a single bed can fit at least three people, but my mother disagreed and was obsessed with everyone having their own bed. I had to laugh because normally I would agree with her, but I just thought, “there is room for everyone, the more people the better”. As New Years Eve came closer I did not really know what to do because I wanted to spend time with my parents and my grandmother, but also my visitors. Again the Venezuelan in me made the decision easy by having a party with everyone. Normally young people celebrate with their friends while the parents celebrate with their friends, but I thought it would be cool to have a Venezuelan type of celebration where it does not really matter if you are 3 years old or 98 years old (like my grandmother). The evening was perfect!

There were other times where I felt the Venezuelan in me creeping up and therefore I am so happy to return now. Don’t get me wrong, I like my country’s culture a lot, but for now I am happy to be spending the next five months speaking Spanish, eating fried food for breakfast, negotiating taxi prices and dancing sober.

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How to become Venezuelan

I want to say two things before I continue writing. First, your comments and response to my posts almost bring me to tears. I have no words other than I appreciate it a lot, thank you! Second, there are some comments complaining about not showing the “other side” of Venezuelans and Venezuela. Let me just say that I am very aware of things like crime, corruption and economical crisis, but this is not a newspaper. I have chosen to focus on more positive aspects of the Venezuelan culture because if we always look at the negative sides of things we might just as well give up. I know things are difficult here and is is important to be realistic, but that is not synonym to being negative. There will be more “serious” posts later, but if you want to read about killings, kidnappings and other things I suggest you buy a newspaper.

I am working as a teacher for children in the age of 9-17 years old. This means talking to a lot of cool Venezuelan children and I thought it would be a good idea to ask them what I have to do to become Venezuelan. I had a lot of fun the week we talked about this and together with them as well as my colleagues and friends we came up with a pretty long list. I have a plan to become as Venezuelan as possible while living here and I find this list helpful. Again, I hope I don’t offend anyone.

1)                   Make and eat arepas (for non Venezuelans: Google it).

2)                  Go to a baseball game

3)                  Be careful, no phone on the streets and know who is behind you

4)                  Knowing how to cross the street, it is all about timing

5)                  Flow! Do not have specific plans, be late and don’t worry

6)                  Hang out in the mall (safe and air condition)

7)                  Go to the beach

8)                  Party; drink, sing and dance like there is no tomorrow

9)                  Make fun out of everything

10)                Don’t be easily offended

11)                 Have the Venezuelan spirit, don’t worry be happy

12)                 Enjoy the really loud music everywhere

13)                 Talk to everyone and overshare if you can

14)                  Eat dinner for lunch and lunch for dinner (not used to big lunch)

15)                  Dress sexy, be sexy, especially at the gym

16)                  Have a 1000 candles (when electricity stops working)

17)                  Patience! Learn how to wait in line, in traffic, for people etc.

18)                  Speak Spanish, preferable local Spanish (Na’guara, Sieeeee, Chevere)

19)                  Know somebody who knows somebody (palanca)

20)                  Don’t wait for your turn, make it your turn

21)                  Drink sugar with coffee and everything else with sugar

22)                  Dance your sexiest dance at all times

23)                  Make everything about politics

24)                  Don’t be shy

25)                  See the good things in the bad things

26)                  Don’t give a shit, especially in the traffic

27)                  Make friends everywhere, anytime with anyone

28)                  Sing at all times

29)                  Love food, especially Venezuelan food

30)                  Be happy, things will always work out one way or the other J

If you have more tips how to become Venezuelan let me know. I am trying my best! In comparison there is a very funny page about norwegians on Facebook if anyone is interested:

https://www.facebook.com/LoveNorge

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The Venezuelans

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.

hugs and kisses

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!

bus merida

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.

arepa pepito and salsa

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.

waiting in line

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.

dancing

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.

IMG_7258 rule breaking

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…

virgin cavesorte

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!

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The CULTURE SHOCK!

Oxford Dictionary gives this definition of culture shock:

The feeling of disorientation experienced by someone when they are suddenly subjected to an unfamiliar culture, way of life, or set of attitudes: Jet lag, culture shock, altitude sickness; we struggle to get to grips with this, our first morning in South America”

I find it very funny that a dictionary is mentioning “first morning in South America” in the definition of cultural shock, but I could not agree more! My first week in Barquisimeto is a good example of what a cultural shock is and how it feels. As an open-minded person I did not think the cultural shock was going to be that big, but I could not have been more wrong. I will do my best to describe the things I experienced my first days, but I don’t think I will ever be able to describe how absurd it all felt.

I come from a country where summer temperatures hardy reach +25C so the first shock was the heat. Because I have been to south of Europe during summer I thought I knew what hot felt like, but again I was wrong. My goodness, the heat was extreme! People kept telling me that this was fresh compared to a place called “Marcaibo” where the temperature sometimes reach higher than +45C! I though: “I will never ever go there” (I was wrong about that too). The constant heat was suffocating and my room did not have air condition. I actually though I was going to die from heat stroke or something. When they told me that there is not always water in the shower I really started panicking, but only on the inside. I did not want to show how shocked I was.

Maybe I have myself to blame for not doing more research before leaving, but nevertheless I was shocked how underdeveloped Venezuela was. The first days I was seriously doubting if I could live here for 8 months, but there was something that made me snap out of these thoughts: the people! I have never felt more welcome anywhere I have been. People showed genuine interest in why I was there, where I came from and always finished a conversation with “if there is anything I can help you with let me know”. Even though people starred at me on the bus it was never in a hostile way, but rather out of curiosity.

Talking about the “bus”… After living in Venezuela for 3 months I still find it amusing using the transportation system and I will definitely write more about that, but for now let me try to describe my first meeting with this absurd system. Getting to the “bus stop” from my place we first of all had to cross the street. Sounds simple enough right? No, crossing the street is an extreme sport in Venezuela and it takes some weeks to really get a hold of it. There are traffic lights, but I am not really sure why because they do not have any real function. Look left, look right and then you run in between the cars that do no under any circumstances stop for pedestrians.

We walked along the sidewalk and at no specific place we stopped. “Why are we stopping?” I asked. “This is where we wait for the bus,” said my new friend. “Oh” I said, pretending it was the most natural thing in the world waiting for the bus in a completely random place along the sidewalk. There was no sign, no schedule, and no information. I had to laugh because nobody seemed to understand why I thought this was strange, but at least there were busses.

What appeared was not a bus, but an overcrowded van with homemade signs saying where it was going. And when I say overcrowded I don’t mean European overcrowded. I am talking about people hanging out of the doors and windows, people on top of each other and sitting almost on the driver’s lap. The personal space was non-excising, but people really did not seem to mind. In the van there was blasting Latin music, people were staring and the driving was crazy. And again the worst part was the heat; I could not breathe and could not be happier when we got off at our “stop”. To get off we had to shout and clap for the driver to hear us through the ridiculously loud music.

We walked around in the heat and I could not help noticing the dirty streets with occasionally huge holes in the sidewalk, I noticed the intense smell of gasoline from the old cars, the loud music coming from everywhere, the constant honking in the traffic, people shouting and there were palm trees everywhere. I was very far away from anything I have experienced before.

After some time it was time to go back and when I thought the transportation could not be more amusing… this happened:

Once again we stood in a random place waiting for…something. I thought how on earth would I figure out how to get around in this city. As an ridiculously old car pulled over with the same home made signs in the front window I thought: you got to be kidding me, what the hell is this! I was told it was a “rapidito” and that it works almost like a bus/van/whatever. We got in and everyone said “buenas” to each other, which means hello. I thought how funny it would be if I did the same on a bus in Norway, people would think I was crazy. We were in the back seat of the rapidito with another guy while there were two girls in the front. Everyone was talking together like they where best friends until someone said “en la parada por favor” and the driver would pull over and let the passenger out.

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Back in my extremely hot room, in a house with a family I just met and who did not speak English I felt the homesickness creeping up on me. All the impressions and emotions started to sink in as I sat in front of the fan trying to cool off. Without any possibility to connect with world (no wifi) in a house I knew nobody and without knowing the language I felt lonelier than ever. I started to panic, what have I done!!! Would I ever be able to adapt to this lifestyle and culture so different from my own? Calling home would not make any difference. I chose to come here, nobody forced me to move to Venezuela, and so I made a choice…

I decided that I was going to like living here. I was going to live here and I decided that I would have fun doing it. And what a great decision to make! From that moment I have not been homesick and I am having the time of my life in this slightly crazy society. In a country like Venezuela it is easy to see the bad things around you, but learning to see the good things takes a little more effort. Why is life so good in Venezuela? The answer is easy: the Venezuelan people!

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The first impression

Before I came to Venezuela I only knew that things would be very different from what I was used to in Norway. The differences were noticeable already on the flight from Frankfurt to Caracas. There was a lot of (loud) small talking between passengers who obviously did not know one another. The girl next to me tried talking to me using the little English she knew, and I answered (awkwardly, but polite) back in the little Spanish I knew. She was very friendly and even gave me her name and number if I ever needed anything. This would certainly never happen in Norway where people only speak to strangers when absolute necessary.

When the plane landed people were out of the seats and ready with their backpacks before the captain could even announce our arrival in Caracas. The cabin crew tried their best to inform the passengers that everyone had to be seated until the “fasten seatbelt sign” was switched off, but nobody really seem to give a shit. I could not help laughing, just a little bit.

When I reached the passport control I was highly confused because there were no signs where to go or which line to get into. In fact there was not a line system at all! In the complete chaos I decided to just place myself behind a person and hope it was the right place to be, luckily it was. After a good hour or so I passed through without problems, but I could not help noticing the big sign saying that bribing the controllers is strictly forbidden.

As I got my luggage and was ready to leave the safety of the airport I realized that this is it. There was no way back. I was by my self in one of the most dangerous cities in the world. I have to admit it: I was really scared, but at the same time excited and a tiny bit proud of being so adventurous. I took a deep breath and set out to the arrival hall…

And what a chaos, there were people everywhere with signs for picking up passengers. I knew I could not look lost, so I walked determent over to a café and asked a security guard to call the driver from my hotel. While I stood there waiting for him I realized how paranoid I was. Everyone looked like criminals, my mind went into survival mode: trust nobody! Of course most of the people there were just normal people waiting for friends and family, but the stories about kidnapping and robberies kept popping up in my head.

Yes I was scared, but managed to keep my calm face on. As people passed me I heard people offering cheap taxies or good dollar rates. Finally my driver arrived! We went out (which was like meeting a wall of heat) and got in the car that was going to take me to the hotel downtown Caracas.

It is hard to describe what I felt in the car when we drove from the airport to Caracas in the darkness, but I will do my best. First of all: Oh My God, I am definitely going to die if he does not slow down or stop texting!!! The driving was nothing I have ever experienced in my life: the speed, the constant changing of lanes, the using of the “pullover lane” as an actual lane, the honking, the texting, the lack of seatbelt and the extreme smell of gasoline was overwhelming. At the same time it looked beautiful. The mountains filled with lights everywhere and the feeling of being somewhere completely unknown made me smile, despite my fear of dying in a traffic accident.

I know now that the pretty mountains filled with lights are not so pretty during the days. As we got closer to downtown we had to drive through the “barrios”, which tend to be less safe areas (to put it in a nice way). So then I was scared again and really just wanted to be inside the safety of the hotel. This experience really was an emotional rollercoaster and I could not be happier when I got the keys to my room, which had air-condition and a huge bed.

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