Street Legal for Two More Years....

You Say Hello... I Say....

The longer I live here, the more aware I am of how I have changed.  Before when I would go to dance, men would say to me "¿Sos extranjera?" (You are a foreigner?) Now when they say it, it is with an exclamation point rather than a question mark.  They are surprised when I speak that I am not Argentine. 

One Saturday night when I went to El Beso I met up with a group of my Australian friends.  We all sat at a table together.  Strangely enough we were all babbling blondies.  I along with them spoke in English.  In between songs while dancing with a man he was surprised to find that I was not Argentine.  He mentioned that he heard me speaking English (which at times gets accented with my flavored accent) but really believed that I was from here.

My English speaking friends find it difficult to believe.  They look at me and see California written all over me.  Maybe because that is what they want to see, maybe because it is.  The Argentines see the style of my clothes, my haircut, my jewelry.  But the telling things are the way people walk, how they stand, facial expressions. 

It is interesting to note the way people walk and act from other cultures.  The non-verbal says much more than the verbal.  I think it is this along with the other things that mistake me for being from here. (Well I guess now I am from here.) The first thing I noticed about the Chilean men when I went to Santiago is they walked without a swagger which is common to the Porteño men.  North Americans have a very open style about their walk. Germans are very erect and precise. Australians seem to bounce. Yes, these are stereotypes, but hello, stereotypes come from somewhere.

In the last few weeks I have been noting cultural differences. Sometimes I feel caught.  I am living an Argentine life.  I live here, I work here.  My friends are mostly Argentine, although I do have friends from other countries.  I choose my friends because they are good and interesting people.  Not because they come from one specific place.

On one side I am not really all that North American.  I am being absorbed into the culture here.  On the other side I am not Argentine.  Things happen to me with Argentines and I try to understand.  Most times it is a cultural thing.  Things happen to me with North Americans and I understand, even though it bugs me.

Argentines always greet their friends or people they know.  I cannot imagine coming into a room and not greeting someone I know.  Nor can I imagine leaving a room without saying good bye.  How many times has an Argentine friend excused them self to go greet someone on the other side of the room?  It happens all the time.  I have friends who greet people they don't even like, but do it out of courtesy. (More about this later.)

On the contrary, I find my North American counterparts somewhat opposite.  I have guests who stay with me that never greet me or say good bye.  At first I was a little put off, but then I had to remind myself what was going on.  Most Americans who go to a milonga with me are amused when I go on what I call my "kissing expedition" where I go and greet all the people I know.  When I leave I try to say good bye as well.

In the U.S. we live a very solitary life.  We want to be alone.  Here we want to be together.  I am home tonight alone, because I am tired.  Not because I have nothing to do or no one to do something with. Today I spoke with several of my friends, each for about an hour.  That is something I never would have done when I lived in California.

I remember when I lived in the U.S. (like many who do not probably want to admit they did or do this) I would cross the street or walk in the other direction so as not to have to talk to someone I knew.  How screwed up is that?  That is why I understand, (but have a difficult time accepting) guests who do not respond to "Good morning, how are you, how was your day, or say good bye when they leave.  I am always amazed at people I used to see in the U.S. who like to pretend they don't see me (I become the invisible woman I guess)when I run into them in the milongas. Worse is when they act indignant that I dared to come to greet them.  I don't get what the big deal is that I stop by their table to say hello and ask if they are having a good time.

On the contrary, my Argentine friends become indignant if I forget to greet them.  People stop me all the time in the market, the street, the subte, to say hello.  Probably the major reason people are late here is because they are so busy saying hello.  (There is no such thing as a quick Argentine hello - they are  Jewish good byes...they take forever. {so my father says}) Once at a milonga I was tired and did not greet a table of men I normally go to say hello to.  When I was leaving, one of the men wanted to know if I was angry with them. 

As a Californian and North American, I am direct.  This is a trait I think of most English speakers.  We tend to say what we feel.  We don't sugar coat it.  Coming from a nerd background, I tend to be even more so.  (You know - true or false, 0 or 1.) Latin Americans tend to be more hmmmm.... concerned about hurting someone's feelings than sometimes telling the truth.

This was always an issue with my ex Diego, the Colombian.  The white lies he and his family would create would drive me up a wall.  When I would confront him he would sincerely tell me that he did it because he did not want to hurt (fill in the blank) feelings.  Now that I am in the middle of this kind of thinking I am beyond being driven up the wall. 

In the last 10 years or so, communication has been a big thing in the U.S. (yet we ignore each other on the street - go figure) Healthy people talk about their feelings and try to be clear about them.  They try communicate what it is they want and expect.   We want no misunderstandings.  It isn't that we are cruel, it is just that we believe that if we are open and honest from the beginning it saves time and hurt feelings in the end.  We talk about setting limits, taking responsibility.  This has been my mantra.

Now I am here.  Argentines are some of the warmest, most affectionate and caring people I have ever met.  They are emotionally expressive.  BUT, they don't talk about feelings. What I experience is that most people feel that talking about their needs when it might hurt the feelings of another person is not acceptable.  Better to say nothing or to say a small lie, than to hurt that person's feelings.

A young friend of mine was very upset with me.  Rather than tell me that he was upset with my actions he said nothing.  He finally after weeks decided to discuss with me why he had not come around.  He had every right to discuss with me how he felt.  The only thing was, because it was so much after the fact I could not really remember how I had acted.  I think I surprised him when I did not get angry and told him he should have expressed to me much sooner why he was upset with me.

Whether my actions were right or wrong - justified or not, is irrelevant.  What is relevant is that his feelings were hurt and he should have told me.  Unfortunately (in my opinion) this culture does not support  acknowledging your feelings if you think it will hurt someone else's.  For me this is a problem. I am used to this way of communication.  Here I am told I have "un caracter fuerte" ( a strong character) and that is not always a compliment.  I am used to setting limits and respecting other people's limits.

When I explain this to my young friend, he comments that Americans always think of the small picture.  I find that comment interesting, because in my opinion if you continue to ignore feelings it becomes a HUGE picture and then cannot be ignored and is even harder to deal with.  A cultural difference to be sure.

Hurricane Jane, my Chinese friend, has been staying with me.  The other day we were talking.  She was talking about some of her friends.  I think if one were to listen to her at face value you would think all her friends have major character flaws.  I know Jane.  She does not feel this way.  It is how she expresses herself.  She tells me "Sometimes it is difficult for me.  I am Chinese, but I live in the U.S. But I am still Chinese.  But in China I live in the U.S. I don't know how to explain it."  I hug her.  "I completely understand."  I tell her.  "I am from the U.S., but I live here.  I am not Argentine, but I am not really American anymore.  I am in the middle, like you."


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I read it...i appreciate that.i like it.


"This is a trait I think of most English speakers. We tend to say what we feel. We don't sugar coat it. Coming from a nerd background, I tend to be even more so. (You know - true or false, 0 or 1.)"

I think this is an issue related to communication. As long as you are a tango dancer you know well that sometimes in the milonga you do not have to say no in order that the other you are refusing an invitation, the language in a milonga is subtler. If you understand those subtle signs there is no need to be hurt by a direct answer.
Besides, in life, hardly anything is binary, most of the times things have different, imperceptible nuances, and it represents a simplification of reality to try to coin it in such limited concepts as the binary you mention. In this order of things, I think there is no TRUE in capitals(as it is in the rigorous protestant viewpoint) but littler and bigger trues, and littler and bigger lies, and what ultimately matters is the whole picture.
PS: concerning directness in communication, I think is a typical usa trait, I had the opportunity to meet in england the most sly bastards!


This proves that I'm not crazy. I've always been the type of person who has to make my rounds of "hello" and "goodbye" when I arrive and before I go... I've flattered and confused people this way, since people up in the NW usually just leave places without saying goodbye. It's refreshing when I see that there are entire cultures where people are sure to address those that they know. :-) In Italy it's the same. If you run into your friend in the piazza, you don't say "hi!", even if you're in a hurry (then again, why be in a hurry in Italy)... it's just a given that you stop and talk for at least 5 - 10 minutes. It feels good if you ask me. :-)


Once, I read about positive and negative courtesy:
A person who has positive courtesy, is a person who try to make feel good to others (Ok, es a poor definition, as my english). Examples of positive courtesy are things as hospitality, make gift, etc.
A person who has negative courtesy, is a person who is very aware of don't make feel other people unpleasant. Examples of positive courtesy are being punctual, respect the compromises, etc.
The same text explains how we, Argentinians, have a lot of "positive courtesy" and a lack of "negative courtesy"
Great article. You are a great observer (that's the word?) of people!.

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