Of all Colombians, the Paisas have the most distinctive culture. This culture has its roots in the unique way that the area developed. Settlers from Spain (Extremadura, Andalucía, and the Basque regions) came to this region. Notably, they came as family units and settled in the remote mountains of the area. The topography made large settlements difficult and most families remained separated. This meant that families became the central social unit and it helps to explain the size of Paisa families – having 10-15 children was not uncommon.
Many of the original settlers were Jews, who had been forced to covert to Catholicism during the Spanish Inquisition. Perhaps it is because of this that Catholicism is so predominate in this area and plays such an important role in the culture.
Most Colombians can spot a Paisa right away, they tend to be taller and fairer than the people in the rest of Colombia. But the real give away is their distinctive accent. They pronounce their “s” almost like a “sh” sound and there is a peculiar music to the way they speak. They use “vos” instead of “tu” for informal situations. They also have a plethora of unique vocabulary for all sorts of common items – (stay tuned for Friday’s installment on language).
Paisas are also famous for their business sense. They are true salesmen – my husband says they can sell you the moon and make you believe you are getting a great deal. In the real sense, Paisas are the industrial and commercial heart of the country. They are also very progressive and community oriented. This can be seen even in the orderly fashion they get on and off the bus. In Bogotá, people crowd onto a bus. In Medellín, people form and orderly line and carefully get on the bus. There is definitely a great sense of civic duty.
Medellín is the design and fashion capital of Colombia, not to mention home to some of the most beautiful women on the planet. Yet, the daily dress standard is not as formal as it is in Bogotá. You want to dress nice, but a bit more casually.
Interactions with Paisas are also less formal. Turn on your charm and SMILE. They love people who are happy and people who are genuine – don’t fake it or they’ll know it. Also, don’t be snobby. Accept their invitations to see things or eat things because they are extremely PROUD of their cities and they want to share it with you AND they want you to agree that it is the BEST thing you have seen or eaten – ever!!