While in the same corner of the planet as Canada and the United States, Latin America has many customs and traditions that differ greatly from its neighbors to the north.
The Cheek-Kiss Greeting
I have yet to master the cheek-kiss greeting. I don’t know what it is, something about it always takes me off guard. I can’t tell you how many times I have accidentally pressed my lips against peoples’ ears, collar bones, shoulders, etc. There have also been many awkward bumping moments, with heads almost banging together, or stepping on peoples’ feet (mostly me doing the stepping). At a certain point I finally realized that, as the female, you stay still and wait for the male to kiss your cheek. But what happens if it is two females that are doing the cheek-kiss greeting? Perhaps the girl that is taller/more manly/wearing a plaid shirt steps into the male role? I think my next maneuver in the attempt to get this thing right, as well as the safest, will be to just close my eyes and let whatever is going to happen, happen.
Female Safety On The Road
For a long time I was always surprised when, if walking down the street with a male companion or group of friends, I was pulled from the side closest to moving vehicles to the safe side of the road/sidewalk. Coming from a place where male chauvinism and chivalry are not as prevalent, this tradition always takes me by surprise. I usually ask the guy(s) “why” when it happens, prompting a shrug and confused look; I’ve concluded it’s just something they do without thinking.
Dressing Up… For Any and Every Occasion
I admitted to my husband’s family that there were months on end during high school that I had worn pyjamas/sweatpants to school 4 out of 5 days of the week. They laughed as if I was joking. The reality is that here, it is frowned upon to leave your house, even if it’s only to go across the street to get milk, without looking half decent. I will never forget the time that I put on my best (that is, least ripped) jeans and a black halter top (nothing says “dressy” like a black halter top) to go to a high school beauty pageant/party (where, incidentally, I first really spoke to my husband-to-be). Prior to the event I went out for dinner with a friend, who, after we finished eating, said “we can swing by your place on the way to the party so you can change”. I was surprised. Change into what? I happened to be wearing the fanciest clothes I had with me (I was backpacking through Mexico, after all), and when I informed him of that, he laughed awkwardly and nervously.
These are just a few of the examples of how I bumble my way through Latin America. Needless to say, I like to think that all of my cultural differences are seen by those around me as endearing, and that I am an ambassador of sorts, helping spread my knowledge and customs, or at least providing a good laugh.