My wife and I have lived in two of the most pub
My wife and I have lived in two of the most publicized retirement locations, Panama and Colombia. One of the most important things we've learned about the culture, and this applies to both countries, is that we're wealthy gringos. That seems obvious, but there have been interesting, sometimes disheartening implications in this. Compared to the average Colombian, for example, we are fabulously wealthy. In the top 1%, without question. These folks' average monthly income is currently $239.00 US. (That isn't a typo.) Our combined monthly income is, let's just say, roughly 23 times as much. Colombians work very, very hard for that wage, often seven days a week. Our $$ rolls in every month, no labor required. All we have to do is keep breathing.
Are we ashamed or ambivalent about having this wealth? No, we earned it, after a fashion, in the good old USA, and we are, in fact, entitled to it. But having it demands a certain amount of discretion here in Colombia. It also presents a different perspective, an education in the disparity that exists between us and folks we live among.
Here's a recent example: When we signed for our apartment in Laureles, a reasonably well off barrio of Medellin, I asked about the deposit. 'No deposit,' I was told. Wha..? No deposit, I asked? 'What protection does the landlord have?' My wife and I are landlords, too, having owned rental properties in Ohio, and still having one. We know what can happen if a tenant has paid no deposit. In any case, my question was what happens here in Colombia with no deposit? The answer was that no owner can demand a deposit, because local folks can't afford to pay one. And if a deposit is required, the property will not find a tenant.
Here's another example. It's common in Medellin for store clerks, grocery cashiers, restaurant waiters to ask, when paying with a credit card, how many payments we'd like to make toward our bill? At first, this question confounded us. We'd like to pay it all, of course. The basis for the question is, again, for any amount above about $30.00, it's not uncommon for Colombians to need two or three months to meet it. Considering the monthly wage of $239.00, its easy to see why $30.00 would be a stretch.
In any case, we have had to assimilate that fundamental reality into our daily interaction with folks. Compared to us, and likely most expats, these people are poor. Not poor in cultural heritage, relationships, family and social wealth poor, but cash/financial latitude/discretionary income poor. It's hard to conceive of an inability to cough up $30.00 at one time, but it's their reality. It's hard to learn that lesson, but I believe we expats must make the effort.
(Plaza de Bolivar, Colombia, pictured.)