While living in a foreign country, I experienced firsthand how vastly different people’s cultures can be: how and what people eat, the way people dress, greetings, and even the way people treat and act toward others. At times, it was difficult assimilating myself to the customs and cultural norms around me, but after a while, I often took on the persona of the locals. Walking quickly without paying much attention to those around me? I am amazing now! Dropping food from the family style plate and making a mess of the table? No big deal! It’s the sign of a good meal.
Now that I’m back in the U.S., I’m around the traditions that I see as normal: shaking hands when you first meet someone, eating with a fork and making sure not to spill, etc.
Just to make things more interesting in my life, I found a guy to date who is from a different culture than mine. Our expectations and customs are different because Mario grew up in South America. For the past 15 years, he’s assimilated himself to the American culture, but as he describes it, “I have two lives to keep up with: my background and what I know from Ecuador and my many years in America. They aren’t the same and learning to adapt is hard.”
My track record proves that it is tricky learning to adapt, but it was (almost) always a fun challenge. I’m excited again to be learning new things and expanding my horizons.
Here are a few cultural differences so far that I’ve noticed:
1. Hugging of people you’ve only just met, including family members – All of Mario’s friends and his cousins hug me when they say hello and goodbye, even the first time I met them. His aunt and uncle were a bit harder nuts to crack. They clearly know that I’m American and are probably unsure if the whole “hugging new people” thing is what I would expect. Before I met his aunt, Mario told me to hug her; so while I went in for the hold, she stuck out her hand for a handshake = awkward embrace. The next time I saw her, I didn’t lean in and she didn’t either…hello from a few feet away is just fine with us! Afterward, Mario gave me the look, “HUG HER!”, so when I went to say good-bye, a proper ‘nice to meet you’ embrace was given.
2. Dancing – Now, I love to shake my booty on the dance floor, but only like a white girl can. In the Latin culture, dancing is huge! When growing up, Mario learned many different versions of dance from the mamba to meringue and salsa. I, on the other hand, do a great booty pop and can wave my hands in the air while simultaneously snapping perfectly. I’m learning the steps to a few different types of Latin dances and while it’s more scripted than the way “my people” dance, it’s still really fun. A huge dance floor with lots of people doing the same thing…and while that might sound like Glee, it’s actually good ol’ fashioned fun. My favorite time dancing has been with a bunch of school kids. We recently went to a charity 5K with Mario’s school and a song telling the kids to dance sexy came on. Everyone around me – including the kiddos – starting shaking their hips, so I did too.
3. PDA – I’m not sure who doesn’t detest watching others put their hands all over each other, but when you’re the one doing it, it’s like the rest of the world doesn’t exist. Latinos are known for their Latin Lovah personalities, so Mario has no qualms with grabbing hand (or my my butt, for that matter) or pecking my cheek in public. Hell, on our second date, we made out on a full dance floor while reggae music pulsed around us. He doesn’t care that others can see his affection for me because he has nothing to hide because he likes me. His inhibition may be my favorite thing about him.
Mario and I are different in many other ways, too, and learning something new and exploring someone else’s way of life is exhilarating.
P.S. Food is another huge cultural different – check back on another blog post for more on that!