Costeno Body Language 101

Have you ever seen a coastal Colombian talk? It’s 85% body language with animated facial expressions, broad hand gestures and full-body emphasis on the Most Important Points. Even their feet are fidgety, listo to break into a salsa step. Imaginate what it’s like when the subject matter actually involves dancing!

Because or body language is so central to the culture, the idiosyncratic gestures and facial expressions are essential communication tools to survive as adopted costenos.

Once you master these haptics, your cultural fluency will skyrocket, your language skills will improve, and costenos everywhere will adore you (if only to laugh at you.)

How to Ask for Clarification with Your Nose 

This is the costeno shrug, the Colombian gesture for the universal “huh?” Use this gesture to say you don’t understand, to ask for the speaker to repeat their statement, to indicate a doubt or question, or to amuse your host family.

Be careful not to overemphasize the gesture, as this may lead to the universal “you smell bad” face or worse, premature wrinkles.

Also, How to Ask for Clarification Like a Straight Man 

How to Point with Your Lips 

The quintessential  costeno gesture is the lip point. The second you do that, you’re pegged as an insider. Here, a real costena demonstrates. This is my personal favorite gesture, because you can use it to talk about anything that’s over there–“look over there at that pregnant nun” or “pass me that tripe soup” or “let’s move over to that side of the bus.”

How to Complain about Too Many/Too Much 

“Full lleno”, they say, or full full. Appropriate uses: when the supermarket is packed with bargain-hunting stay-at-home moms. When your favorite bar is awash in tourists. When you accidentally catch the bus at 5:49 pm and it’s overflowing with commuters and you have to stand between two sweaty men.

How to Indicate Money or Expense 

This gesture is perfect because it goes hand-in-hand with the “pupy” (snobby and/or rich and/or entitled) idea. Use this gesture to say, “they have money!” or “that’s too expensive” or “everything has its price!” or “I am broke” (best accompanied with a mournful head shake.)

How to Hail a Bus in Barranquilla 

Hail that bus in style! Stop in the middle of the sidewalk, lean out into the street, and flag that baby down with a “come here!” wave of the hand. You look cooler if you make it a quick, subtle affair, but you risk missing the bus. Better you pull the brazen costeno and plant yourself at the edge of traffic, wave broadly and add a wolf whistle.

Don’t forget: there are no designated bus stops–any moment you decide to take a bus, feel free to stop and hail one; this also applies to getting off. This is great because you can catch it as soon as you see it. This is NOT great because they’ll do that for every person, resulting in stops every few feet. The schedule works accordingly

How to Say It’s Bad and/or Over 

This one works for two meanings. First, it’s the sign for something negative. You use it talk about “a big problem” or “don’t go there” or “I don’t have any.” It’s a useful gesture because complaining is so much easier when you just have to make a quick neck jab and an exasperated face.

But it’s also the typical indication of the end–the class is over, the money is gone, the fun is done. Se acabo la vaina! (The fun is over!)

And there you have it, a quick run-through of some essential costeno body language to liven up your communication style. Feel free to incorporate these into your daily conversations wherever you are–if they don’t win you Colombian fans, they will at least serve as conversation starters. Rinse and repeat!


5 thoughts on “Costeno Body Language 101”

  1. Fran, have you figured out a nice gesture to tell taxis to stop honking at you when you don’t want their service??

    1. Thanks for reading and reblogging, Fran! The nose and lip things are just so useful. Are they used in the same situations in Nicaragua?

      1. Yep they are used exactly the same way, and they are so much a part of everyday communication I had a terrible time extinguishing them from my English communication when I went back to the US. So many of these physical gestures and expressions have come flooding back by just being here. The subtle finger waving off of vendors came back without a thought and is still just a useful as it was in Central America.

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