Editorial Note: In April, I took a month off in Medellin. For me, this meant an interesting and diverting month. For you, this means 30 days of posts about my vacation. I’ll try to make them somewhat amusing.
I did learn a few new words during my trip, and two of the most interesting were palanca and rosca. Both are related to the somewhat clubby was business is done in Colombia.
Literally translated, una palanca is a lever. Idiomatically, this refers to a connection inside a company or other organization who can help you get a job (or, I’m extrapolating, something else that you might want). I’m told that, absent such connections, it can be a little difficult for Joe Random Colombiano to make his way in the world.
Rosca is a peculiar word. It literally refers to the threading of, e.g., a screw or (as it was explained to me) a bottle top. This serves as a metaphor for a circle of friends who help one another to advance up the professional (or political, etc.) ranks through long-term mutual favor-granting. The imagery of a cap slowly climbing the neck of a bottle as it turns round and round strikes me as quite poetic. I especially like the fact that the lever and the screw are both simple machines.
As these examples demonstrate, some Colombians can be a little cynical about their country (underneath their defensiveness about its reputation). I didn’t have the heart to tell them about Goldman Sachs, AIG, TARP, and QE2.