What Makes A Paisa

Everyone is unique. Yet there are always little traits uniting people in the same region. There is no way I could unify Rolos (Bogota), Costeños (Caribbean Coast), Caleños (Cali) and Paisas (northwest Colombia: Antioquia and surrounding areas). They’re four different regions producing very different people. However, I’m going to attempt to bring together what I feel are the ingredients for a Paisa.

1. Live In The Moment, Forget The Past And Worry About The Future Later

This one is first for a reason. It provides context to Paisa mentality -their history. Living in Medellin really showed me how much influence history has on society today. Fifty, forty even as a little as fifteen years ago, Medellin wasn’t the safest place to be. With the likes of Pablo Escobar trying to control every nook and cranny, there were street wars, bombs and a government undertaking various operations (such as Operation Orion) to “clean out” the area. While Medellin is nothing like this today, this past has an effect on the mentality of the people. There is a need to enjoy the moment while all is good. Who knows what tomorrow will bring, so when there’s an opportunity to gain more, have fun and celebrate the health and safety of your family, do it. Go party every night, dance without a care and appreciate the company you have. Like the subheading states -live in the moment, forget the unfortunate aspects of the past and worry about what the future will bring later.

2. Take Advantage Of The Situation

This is a lead on from the previous point, appreciate what you have when the opportunity presents. Personally I believe this isn’t always the best way. Perhaps taking advantage of the current situation will lead to negative repercussions later down the track and less thought-through long term solutions. However, the present is where you’re at, so as long as your happy why not, right? They have a very YOLO mentality.

3. Comfortably Use Endearments And Show Affection

I’m not sure if this is specifically Paisa because for the most part, most Colombians from around the country weren’t shy to be calling me, Mi Reina (my queen) when talking to me for the first time. Obviously, like in many other countries, you have your cat calls on the street, with Paisas often saying ‘ay mami’ to a local, while to a foreigner like myself calling ‘ay mona’. But even during normal conversation between male and female friends, Paisas will throw in a ‘parce’ (Colombian term for friend) or even use a ‘mi amor’. To clarify these are mostly people living a little out of the city in nearby pueblos or along the coast. You won’t find this talk in business like jobs or very formal and professional settings.

4. Respect The Transport Systems

Honestly Paisas have every right to be proud of their public transport. Despite being crowded during peak hours, it’s very clean, efficient and crosses the city quickly. Speaking to a classmate, I was in fact informed that many surrounding cities in Latinoamerica come to seek the advice of Medellin’s transport success. The metro, first opened in 1995 was one of the first experiences of modern mass transportation in Colombia. Their transport system is even more impressive with their integrated use of cable cars. With many citizens living across the mountains surrounding Medellin’s centre, it is a huge help to have a cable car up to the high reaches of the suburbs. The cable car system is also largely considered to be the first “urban cable propelled transit system” in South America. So with all these benefits, Paisas naturally respect this luxury they have.

5. Promote An Innovative Working Environment

To clarify, promote means -‘further the progress of (something)’. I feel Medellin still has a fair way to go, but for the time being, they are getting better and providing numerous opportunities. By an innovative environment I mean a place where citizens are encouraged to create new ideas, where work environments are pleasant and where individuals are easily connected. Even little things such as free bikes to hire along the city’s bike tracks and cable carts to transports citizens living on the surrounding mountains. In fact, there are many articles advocating Medellin as ‘most innovative city’.

So what does this mean to a Paisa?

Paisas are looking at these opportunities and taking them on board. This opens the city up to opportunities and encourages many people to move into the area seeking a promising life. This means Paisas are there to work. I only truly understood this once I had seen the other parts of Colombia. In comparison, Medellin feels busier and works a little faster. You don’t move to Medellin to seek relaxation, but to work.

4. What’s Bread? Live Off Arepas.

Arepas are a relatively plain ground corn dough concoction, but great accompaniments with cheese, eggs or even a whole pile up of cheese, bacon, sausage and egg. Honestly I wasn’t a huge fan of bread in Colombia (only ever impressed once in the middle of Parque Tayrona). However, it is a very paisa act to live off Arepa in the place of bread. I had it for breakfast everyday and was often watching one or two of the boys in my house preparing their arepa portions for the week from scratch.

7. Enjoy A Night Out And Appreciate Your Music

Going out is important in Paisa culture, whether you’re there to dance, drink or simply appreciate the music. Like I previously stated, many people will come from out of town to enjoy the benefits of Medellin. This means the styles of music are limitless. Of course clubs and bars will have your typical reggeaton, salsa, bachata, american pop and electronic. However, vallenato, a big style of the Colombian coast is often played, porro can be heard and practiced, as well as the other Colombian styles of champeta, bambuco, joropo, pasillo, mapale etc. No matter how old you are or how young, these tunes are already in your system and going out is just a way to celebrate them.

8. Love The Fútbol (FYI fútbol means soccer) 

Medellin holds one of the biggest stadiums in the country, so there are often big celebrations for local wins. I lived close to the stadium and whenever I came home late on a Wednesday or Saturday night I would have to wade through the ongoing celebrations in the main street of Laureles. Not only does Medellin have a huge stadium, but two great, yet highly rivaling fútbol teams – Atlético Nacional and Independiente Medellín. When these two teams play, things can serious, potentially dangerous. Fighting can be brought out on to the street by supporting hooligans, angry over the results. I attended one, relatively tame game between Nacional and a team from southern Colombia in Pasto. “Relative tame” means no excessive celebrations afterwards nor any angry participants, yet there was never a quiet moment in the hour and a half game. The band was always playing and audience members were always singing and chanting.

9. Be Proud To Be Paisa

With all their partying, national tunes, great local fútbol teams, rich history, unique food and impressive transport systems, Paisas are proud of who they are. This shouldn’t really be a surprise considering how much they have uniting them to each other. They’re survivors who know how to have fun and be happy and so they’re proud.

If you like this twist on a regional culture, I’ve done a few similar posts indicating how to be a Penquista (Concepcion, Chile), Mexican (northern Mexican) and Australian.

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