Tuesday, 14 November 2017

The Bogotá bubbles

In a Colombian context, especially in relation to employment, Bogotá is where it's at for the most part. As the capital and most populated city, it's the place that attracts the most job seekers, both from within and outside the country.

In many employment sectors, such as education and finance to name just two, it's where the best money can be made. Yet, as we've oft mentioned on these pages before, it's a very unequal city.

Bogotá, Colombia: A very unequal city ...
Bogotá: It looks fairly equal from this viewpoint ...
Colombia's inequality is, arguably, most apparent here. In simplistic terms, financially speaking, it's broken into three groups: 'The have lots', 'The have a littles' and 'The have nots'. For our time in the country, putting aside our 'First World' background that, in theory anyway, puts us on a higher plain in this regard, we're firmly in that second group. We share this space with perhaps about 60 to 70 per cent of those who currently call Bogotá home. (In actual monetary terms, we're talking about an average monthly wage of roughly 350 to 450 euros at current conversion rates.)

That is to say, if we operate within certain circles of the city, a working-to-lower-middle class bubble so to put it, we can live within our means. Indeed, with a not-overly frugal existence, those of us in this middle group can even put some money aside on a monthly basis.

Nonetheless, from a socialising perspective, the likes of the city's 'exclusive' Zona G, Zona T and Parque 93 are largely off limits, save for on very rare occasions.

Not only that, but for the seldom times that we do go out in those places, we tend to be quite uncomfortable. Paying multiples of the price for the exact same product, or something very similar, that we can get, with a smile, in the barrios doesn't sit well with us at all. OK, there are some places, although not too many in our experience, that offer both good quality and decent service -- this being a particular rarity in these parts -- at reasonable enough prices.

The thing is, after six years of having Bogotá as the base, remaining in that more modest income bracket, even if we were to see a significant upswing in terms of take home pay (while we're always striving to improve our lot here personally and professionally in the pursuit of a happier existence, money's not the chief motivation), it's unlikely that our socialising habits would change that much.

We now have a very clear idea of what the price of things should be. So when we're asked to pay significantly more than that for no real strong reason, we don't like to. For many of the more well-to-do Colombians, not only do they not have many major issues paying above the odds for things, it's actually a status symbol to do so. Going out in the fancier establishments is a true sign that you've made it; style, questionable as it is, but with little substance. It's also a good way to help ensure the riff-raff are kept at arm's length.

Of course, the quest for a life without these socio-economic divisions, or bubbles as we'll call them, is idealistic in the extreme. The best we can hope for is to see a fusion of some of the bubbles, a levelling out of living standards. The likes of Colombia has a long way to go in this regard, but there's always hope.

From a global perspective, it's also worth bearing in mind the following, which we read in an official UN source a few years back: If the poorest 80 per cent on the planet were to live like the richest 20 per cent, at current consumption levels we would need four planet earths to sustain us.

Thus, it's not a just a case of improving the lot for our most unfortunate. The richer amongst us need to learn the art of modesty in living. We can't all over-indulge in the man-made finer things in life.
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