Michael and Graciela: Michael and Graciela
Please tell us a little bit about yourself. Who you are, where you come from, when you moved to Colombia, etc.
I spent the first 50 years of my life in Michigan in the U.S.A. There I graduated from university, raised a family and owned my own businesses. But writing and knowing other countries was my passion. After a divorce I moved to California immersing myself more in the freelance writing that I had been doing part time for over 30 years. My interest focused on bringing to readers information about other countries than just what one got as a tourist. While researching an article about Colombia I needed someone to provide translations and act as a guide. A friend recommended a Colombian lady who lived in Bogotá.
When we met at the Bogotá airport it was the old cliché of love at first sight. We still find that strange. Both of us admit to being perfectly happy with single life. I figured that I could write anywhere. Graciela wanted to be near her family. We started our relationship in 2004 and were soon married and purchased a home near Bogotá.
I feel fortunate to have witnessed the transformation of Colombia from a "narcostate" to a place that International Living magazine lists as one of the 10 best places in the world for people to retire.
When and why did you decide to start blogging about your experiences?
After moving to Colombia I sent to a U.S. magazine an article about some of the interesting places to see in this South American country. The editor wrote me back wanting drugs and violence in the writing. I realized how little people know about the new Colombia.
When Graciela retired from work and both of us collected a pension we began daily visits to coffee shops. Our discussions often focused on the perceptions people in other parts of the world have about Colombia. We decided in 2013 that the best way to bring Colombia to the people of the world was through a blogsite.
We now use our coffee time to write the blogs. I see things though the eyes of a male expat. My wife looks at everything as a Colombian female. That difference developed our writing style of both of us having a say in the article. Readers are often therefore given different views of a subject.
Do you have any favorite blog entries of yours?
Colombia is coffee and coffee shops are what we enjoy the most. It is where we develop our posts. Therefore our favorite’s blogs are our many coffee shop reviews, but especially our Ten Favorite Coffee Shops in Bogotá for 2013 and for 2014. It is those blogs that started reporters from coffee magazines contacting us for interviews.
Tell us about the ways your new life in Colombia differs from that back home. Did you have trouble getting used to the new circumstances? Did you experience culture shock?
Culture shock did not hit me as hard as some other expats. I had done my homework, visited other countries and had an idea of what to expect. My wife not only explained much to me, but also helped smooth over the differences I encountered. But culture differences did enter into my life and relationship. Things move slower in Colombia. For instance it took four months to get our first land line. Everyone here accepts as normal two weeks or more for Internet installation. Plumbers, electricians, gardeners and other workers tell you one time and arrive several hours if not days later. Two workers helping remodel our first home pretty much summed it up when I overheard one say to the other in a disgusting tone, "Americans, they want every thing done on time and correctly the first time." As in many developing countries there is more apparent corruption to deal with and that has its own set of rules that I am still learning. I was also not knowledgeable of the marked differences in the social strata.
Do you think you were fully prepared for what awaited you in Colombia? If you could, would you change some decisions/preparations you made?
Visiting a country, even if you stay for three months or more, and living there are two different things. While you think you know everything from visiting, I have yet to meet a person who had it all figured out ahead of time. The key is having a personality that rolls with the punches.
In terms of what I would have changed knowing what I do now it is very little. From visits I knew what was easy to purchase in Colombia and at what price, so I shipped over the things (like wood working tools) that I knew would be difficult or expensive to purchase in the country. What I wasn't prepared for and did not comprehend as well as I should have was the real estate market.
Every expat knows that expat life comes with some hilarious anecdotes and funny experiences. Care to share one with us?
My poor communication skills in Spanish was a concern for me. Since Spanish is her first language my wife told me not to worry. In fact she told me that I really only needed to know three words in Spanish. She said that no matter what she said to me I just had to answer with "Si mi amor," (yes, my love.)
But there were other experiences that were humorously different than what I encountered in the USA. One had to do with a Bull that got loose in the Town's central park and the other about What Makes an Interesting Photo.
Which three tips would you like to give future expats before they embark on their new life in Colombia?
- Visit many countries and make sure expat life and Colombian culture is for you.
- They have a saying in Colombia that goes, ‘’Al país que fueres has lo que vieres’’, which basically is the same as the U.S. saying of ‘’When in Rome do as the Romans do’’. You can get into trouble trying to change the way they do things in Colombia.
- Do your best to learn and use Spanish. Do not expect others to understand English. It is estimated that 30% of Colombians speak English but most often the people you deal with on a daily basis speak only Spanish.
How is the expat community in Colombia? Did you have a hard time finding like-minded people or fellow expats?
Most of my interaction with expats is those who have retired to Colombia. Looks wise, we do tend to stand out. For instance, my wife and I were finishing up our purchase at a home improvement store when behind me in line came the words, "You can always find another gringo at Homecenter." It was an Australian man married to a Colombian. Also many expats have contacted me through the website often asking questions.
How would you summarize your expat life in Colombia in a single, catchy sentence?
Living in Colombia brings an adventure waiting to be discovered each and every day.