Cultural Tips, Caracas
If you are planning to make local calls, the best thing is to buy a pay-phone card. You must ask for a "TARJETA (tar-he-tah) TELEFONICA (te-le-pho-nee-cah). You can get it in most newspapers stands and the have diferent prices: 1.000 bolivares (one US$ = 1600 bolivares right now in Jan 2004); 2.000 bolivares and 5.000 bolivares. I always buy the 5.000 one because Im always "at the street" and have to make a bunch of phone calls. (And is much much cheaper than using my cell phone).
The TARJETA TELEFONICA is the size of a credit card and, everynow an then, they change the color, the design, the picture on one of it sides. Right now Im still using one with
FUTBOL (soccer) images. I bought it during the last World Championship. But I already bought the next one, it has a Sagitarious (horoscope) drawing. I wanted to buy a Virgo one, but they ran out of virgins.
When you buy it, turn it around and be sure to read CANTV on the back. (In the picture see if you can find quicky the CANTV sign). That is the main telephone company in Venezuela and pay-phones belong to this enterprise.
Hmmm... time... that is very uncertain and relative in Venezuela. If you are invited to a party, to a birthday celebration, to a baby shower, to a book presentation, whatever, NEVER arrive on time. If you are invited at 7:30 p.m. they expect you to arrive one hour later. And then, there is no oficial time to leave. It could be forever...
I'm including a picture taken last saturday. It was an "hamburguesada" (hamburguers bar.b.q.) with my class mates from kindergarten and grammar school.
We were supposed to arrive at 2:30pm. I got there at 3:00pm (just to help arround before everyone came, but was the second one to arrive). I left at 6:00pm hamburguer-less. Friends kept comming and comming. They ate before midnight, but partied until 2:00 a.m...
B.T.W, is really nice to bring something to a venezuelan that invites you to his home for dinner or a party. Flowers, a bottle of wine... I always bring a dessert.
WE DONT DO NO SIESTAS.
How about my English today?
Seriosly. In Caracas and other big cities we do no take naps. Never. We are to bussy working.
Not even my mom, who will soon be 82 takes nap. In the big cities we dont have a nap tradition. We dont have time for that.
So have a coffee and keep on the run!!!
In Venezuela we have good cigarettes brands. Belmont and Astor, for example. Our tobacco has a superb quality. These cigarettes are milder if compared to Malboro (which you can also get in Venezuela).
Smoking is allowed in certain places, in certain areas, but, to tell you the truth, this XXI century is comming rather smoke free.
If you are visiting a venezuelan in his/her home, and you have been there for 2, 3 or 4 hours chating, and it seems to be that you dont want to go and this will be an endless visit... the venezuelan probably will place a broom behind a door.
You are not supposed to see this. Many venezuelans believe that, by doing this, the visitor will soon leave. This doesnt have anything to do about beeing a foreiner, it has to do with a looooooong visit.
I find it much easier to tell the visitor something like: "well, if you want to stay here do so, but I have to take a shower and go to spleep", but that is something that a normal venezuelan will never -ever- do. (Very unpolite).
So... there is the broom. I've never used this method. Many venezuelans do...
Believes, traditions, customs...
Many venezuelans believe in "la pava". That is a mixture of bad luck and disgrace for a certain period of time. If "la pava" falls over you, then everything will start to go wrong: a virus will strike you computer, a water pipe will break in your apartment in the middle of the night, someone will bump into your car, you will have problems at work... whatever...
To be "empavado" or "empavada" is a terrible thing in Venezuela.
In order to avoid "la pava" to fall over you, if you live in Venezuela you will surely buy a SABILA plant. SABILA is what you call ALOE.
This plant should be placed where you live...but on the left side. On the left side according to what? I dont know. My sabila plant is on my balcony, on the left side, facing the street.
Of course, my mom says that this is primitive, unreasonable and ridiculous.
But... who knows... just in case... and is a nice little plant that requires no attention and almost no water.
Ladies, your attention please, if you leave your purse or your bag on the floor, a venezuelan will inmediatly shout, very anguished and caring about you: "Please dont! Pick it up! Quick!!!".
Many-many venezuelans believe that if you place your purse on the floor, "your money will go away" (you will have to spend your money in things you havent planed or, simply, you will loose it...).
I've always placed all of my purses right on the floor: in school, in university, at work. And I'm always surprised when someone -a friend, a very serious boss, a total stranger- panics and shouts: "Oh, no! Pick it up!".
I always pick it up and place it on my lap, or in a chair near by, or in a table. But I laugh. I've never had this tradition and it seems that I never will. I keep forgeting about it. But Im pleased to know that people care.
The venezuelan most important newspapers -in spanish- are El Nacional, El Universal, Ultimas Noticias, 2001, Panorama, and the evening papers: El Mundo and TalCual.
In Venezuela they publish a newpaper in English: The Daily Jounal.
In ***** (five stars) hotels, you can find newspapers from USA, Spain ("El Pais", which is an awesome newpaper), France, Italy, etc... Also Time magazine and Newsweek.
In the italian book store, at Solano Avenue, you can find the italian newspaper: Il Corriere de la Sera.
But... if you are in vacation... why would you like to read the news?
Yes. If you are eating with a venezuelan and you ask him or her: "pass the salt", him-or-her will pass it to you but will not give it to you in your hand. The venezuelan will place the salt on the table close to you.
Do not pretend to grab the salt from the venezuelan person's hand. Oh no! That is bad luck!!!
(Hahaha... Seriously. Hahaha. My mother "who believes in nothing" as she says, finds this ridiculous).
But you will find many venezuelans that might not think that this really atracts bad luck... but just in case you rather take the salt from the table.
There is an expresion in Venezuela: "Yo no creo en brujas, pero de que vuelan, vuelan". That is: "I dont believe in witches, but they do fly". Meaning by this -in this case- I seriously dont think that if you give me the salt, directly in my hand, I´m going to have bad luck. But lets not push my luck and leave it on the table".
I find pretty amusing and funny this kind of things. And I´m always happy to keep up the tradition.
Oh, I almost forgot: in most "areperas" and not very elegant restaurants, you will see that inside the salt pot there is a little bit of uncooked rice. With humidity the salt gets packed, stiff, blocked (my English is not good enough to describe this). The rice avoids the salt to get solid.
Celebrating a birthday in Venezuela.
You finally arrive to cake moment and to the "Happy Birthday to you" song (which we sing in Spanish with the same melody):
te deseo yo a ti
But before that we sing a local and extremely long version of a Happy Birthday song (I always try to sing faster than it is):
"Ay que noche tan preciosa
es la noche de tu dia
toda llena de alegria
en esta fecha natal.
Tus mas intimos amigos
esta noche te acompañan
te saludan y desean
un mundo de felicidad.
Yo por mi parte deseo
lleno de luz este dia
todo lleno de alegria
en esta edad primaveral
y que la luna plateada
brille su luz para ti (paaaraaa tiii)
y ruego a Dios porque pases
un cumpleaños feliz.
And now its when it comes the traditional Happy Birthday song but in Spanish. (See how this could take for ever?)
But the thing isnt over yet. After you blow out all of the candles (in the picture, my mom, 81, with a hair dryer), you get a knife and with the first cut everybody shouts, screams. That is "the scream of the cake". A rather new venezuelan tradition that I took to Lexington, Kentucky, and kids love it.
Yes we are. Or, at least, we like sweet stuff. For example, we preffer Pepsi than Coke. Pepsi is sweeter. We like a wine called Liebefraumich, just because is really sweet. Almost everbody adds sugar to their coffees or teas. And we have a local drink (a soda, like a pepsi, a seven up, etc) that is called Kolita. Is very pink, and bubbluly and sweeeeet. We joke about it. We say that when some one drinks Kolita (or Colita) has a lack of love. But that drink sure has something... once I was very sick and the only thing I wished to drink was a "Frescolita" (that is the whole brand name).
About a year ago, at the airport, I saw some puertorican travellers taking back home cans and more cans of Frescolita. They said to me: "we dont know what we are going to do when we run out of it".
But most venezuelans like sweets, candies, chocolates, icecreams, etc. My mom says that a meal, with out dessert is like a garden with out flowers. She usually has dessert after breakfast and after lunch. At dinner time she only eats icecream. But she is way too much exagerated.
Also, venezuelan women like the smell of sweet perfums, and colognes and creams...
UPDATE: Manuel Brito, venezuelan VT member in Japan, corrected me. He said he doesnt likes sweet wine. So, here is the way I should have written this: "most venezuelans, a big percentage of us, like sweet everythingsss. Not Manuel Brito who certanly is special and one of a kind".
Thank you note for Manuel:
Cuando te hicieron rompieron el molde. Y mataron al que hizo el molde in the first place. Gracias, papito. CB
Listen to me: in Venezuela you are not supposed to wear sandals with socks. Period. People will stare at your feet, they will make funny faces, roll their eyes, giggle and dont aprove it from a fashion-glamour point of view.
You know what? I DONT CARE. Five years ago I discovered how confortable were sandals with socks: the confort of a shoe, the freshness of a sandal. Aaannnddd since I have a colorfull socks colletion (with dinosaurs, firemen trucks, fat fish, sleepy lambs, reindeers and wicked witch of the west stripes) I do wear them with sandals.
My friends have heart attacks. They keep telling me how awfull I look. And screaming and rolling their eyes. Big melodrama...
That's o.k. I can handle that.
Now... if you come to Venezuela and want to look low profile, dont wear this. Everybody will be staring at you.
That made me think about "Limbo Rock": "how looooow can you gooooo?"...
Once, a doctor from the U.S. told me that appropiate distance in order to talk with someone you just met, was an arm leingh. Closer than an arm leingh could intimidate the other person. Further away could also bother the other one because you are too far away for some unknown reason. So, according to this doctor, an arm leingh was the distance to keep in a conversation.
Not in Venezuela!!! Here people get closer than that in other to talk to you. It doesnt matter if they just met you. We venezuelans approach. Others even touch your arm or your shoulder while talking. Dont be shy, dont feel unconfortable. There is no harrasment. That's the way we are.
In the picture I was talking to a guy I just had met on the bus at the airport.
This weather thing... it is getting pretty weird... This past Xmas we didnt have the weather we were expecting: sunny, bright, cool, blue skies days. (Like always). No. It was rather gray. A little bit rainy. Absolutely off season. January and February 2004 have been pretty much the same. Cloudy. Silly, soft, short rains. Extrange. So now everybody is talking about it. "It wasnt like this before!!!"; and complaining: "I dont like this at all!!!". The good thing is that it gets wet and gloomy, but a couple of hours later there is sunshine again. Thank God for sunshine!!!
Maybe from now on, local tv stations will start considerating to have a weather report, forecast, but since we dont have much experience in this issue, I can clearly picture the weather person: "Well, lets see, it seems that tomorrow is going to be really weird, like it was today"...
In Spanish we have a special relationship, a wonderfull bond that stablishes in between people, that I havent found in English, nor French, nor Italian. (I dont know if that exists in other languages).
I'm talking about the word COMADRE (female) and COMPADRE (male). What is that? Example: Lila and Juan have two daughters. I become the God Mother of both girls. Now I'm the "madrina" (God Mother) of LilaCarolina and Isabella... but what are Lila and Juan to me? She is my comadre and he is my compadre. That would be co-mother and co-father.
In south american countries we treasure this relationship a whole lot. When ever I talk to my comadre Lila about my "ahijadas" (God Daughters), I never tell her: "what are you going to do about...". No. I say: "What are WE going to do".
We really do treasure this bond.
People also call themselves: "Comadrita" (little comadre) or "Compadrito" (little compadre). Or just: "compa".
To be a comadre or a compadre is a serious and very loving matter.