This week it seems everybody is talking about culture shock. It’s a funny phrase; it implies surprise. Surprised that you forgot my birthday, surprised that you know swear words in twenty different languages, but not shocked that a country 6,000+ miles away is different. That being said, here are some of the difference that have been grating on me this week.
People are very direct here. They tell you what they think even if they admit they’re not really educated to speak on the subject. Walking home last night after I had split off from my friends a total stranger told me, “It’s late to be walking alone, no?” as she passed. She wasn’t offering assistance or company, just an opinion. We’ve only been here for a week, but my friends host mom told her she gets heart burn because she’s a nervous person. I don’t know if this is scientifically possible, but additionally, she’s not a nervous person. In the states telling someone they’re tightly wound is rude. But here it’s just an opinion.
I wrote last time about how much calmer life is here. Rest time and naps are respected. If you try to do something, like pay your bill, when someone is resting – even if it’s just watching TV you get “tranquila” – “relax”. Tranquillo/a is used for everything and with much abandon and open mindedness as to its actual definition. I can rarely finish a meal my host mom cooks for me, and as I slow down “Tranquila, tranquila, solo comes que tú quieres.” – “Don’t worry about it, just eat what you want.” At first I wanted to respond, “I’m not worried about it! Why do you think I’m slowing down?”.
To this American it feels like someone telling me to “chill”. I could write a novel on all the ways telling someone to “chill” is offensive and counter productive. But instead I’ll focus on how “tranquilo/a” is not the same. Primarily they use it so frequently and in so many situations it cannot possibly just have the one meaning, additionally it’s frequently said here with care and concern: “calm down, don’t worry”. Most importantly, there is not the implied power dynamic of “chill”. Children say it to parents, husbands to wives, store clerks to customers. I’m beginning to adjust to “tranquila”, although I still have to override my gut reaction with logic.
Personal space is virtually non-existent. You kiss people on both cheeks when you meet them. Which means you’re kissing total strangers, essentially on the word of an acquaintance that they don’t have cooties. The first couple days here I was prepared for this, I was on guard for people to meet and embrace. But I didn’t find any. By Friday I had totally forgotten about this custom, and that is of course when I met somebody. When he leaned in, I was so shocked, it’s only luck that I didn’t pull all the way away.
A Sampling of the Food my Host Mom’s Been Cooking.