People keep asking me "What are Venezuelans like?" I'm not sure how to answer that question, actually. Like anywhere in the world, of course there is variation. They are all very friendly, even when they are kind of insulting you, or when you don't speak their language very well and are struggling through explaining your laundry requirements. People are laid back for the most part, wear jeans instead of shorts, even when it's insanely hot, and are very friendly and warm. Men usually smile and say things to you as you walk by (or hiss like snakes) and women are very very skinny with huge butts and boobs. I can't figure out how they stay so skinny with all the fried foods and meat they eat here. This is also the country with the most plastic surgery of anywhere in the world, and it shows. A lot of Miss Universe's have also apparently come from Venezuela.
Venezuelans like dogs more than cats, I've been told and I've noticed. Lots of people have dogs here... and there are lots of strays (like any other 3rd worldish country). It can be hard to tell the difference between strays and domestic dogs too. I don't know if people are speaking slower because of me and my limited Spanish or not, but I've also been told that Andean people speak slower than those in other parts of the country and continent, so I can understand pretty well. They drive like crazy people and I don't understand why they even have stoplights because there are clearly laws I do not understand regulating when you actually pay attention to the stop lights and when you don't. There are traffic laws and you could potentially get a ticket, but no one does. Lots of people ride motorcycles (we actually rode along the highway that Che Guevara took through South America - the longest road in the continent - to get to Los Llanos the other weekend.)
Venezuelans practice Catholicism mostly, with a mix of spiritualism from the native peoples here and Santeria which was created by slaves who wanted to worship their orishas but were not allowed by their owners so they used Catholic saints to stand in for their orishas. I've been told the Christian God is always at the top of the totem of religious importance, but there are many other ways to practice your beliefs and many other beliefs that the Church in Rome would not be so into but that are practiced side by side and regularly in Venezuela. We went to a graveyard for my folk lore class to get a better idea of this religious synchronism. Here are some pictures:
This is inside one of the tombs of a Indian man who died in the early 1900s and who is now said to preform miracles. If you pray to him when you are sick or a member of your family is sick, you may be saved. He is not a Catholic Saint, but he is thought to preform miracles. If you do receive a miracle from him, you must give a gift to the tomb, so there are plaques all over the walls as well as trinkets from those who have received miracles. I'm not sure why someone decided this particular dead person was a good one to pray to when your in need of a miracle, but someone did, it worked and its caught on for many years now.
This is another tomb. This one belongs to a man who was a bit of a Robin Hood character. He was killed by the police when he was 21 and is now seen as a protector of the poor and another miracle worker. You can see all the plaques from miracles he has preformed covering the tomb. It is also said that if you study in or around the tomb your memory and grades will be better, so inside along with all the other normal offerings there are several medals students get when they graduate here. There are also cigarettes along the floor that were lit then left for him to smoke, and sometimes apparently you can find drugs here as well as offerings.
My host dad told me that in Merida, people are Catholic during the day and party at night, evidenced by the huge amount of bars in this city and not much else to do after the sun sets (around 6:30 because we're right on the equator).
I can't figure out when/how much people here work. This may be a product of the "communism" though I'm not really clear. Last Friday we didn't have class and wandered around the downtown area and there were SO many people out. Lots of school-aged kids and lots of not just women but men and other adults too. I can't figure out if they were not working on Friday or what was happening. My host dad comes home around 2:30 most days, and leaves for work at 7:30 when I do. Some days he works late, but mostly it seems like people here do not work the long and strict hours you see in the States. And my mom doesn't work. On my homestay information sheet it said she was a "nutritionist" (my dad is a lawyer) and after talking to other people who's moms are the same, we've decided that that might be the nice say of saying they are stay at home moms who cook and clean for everyone.