The Cultural Perspective

Over the years living in Peru, Paraguay, Ecuador and Mexico, I learned that Latin Americans don't want to disappoint. It's a cultural thing. It's also a thing that confounds expatriates, who come from a rather different cultural perspective.

For example, there's that word mañana. Though our well-thumbed dictionary defined it as tomorrow, I'd learned firsthand it might also mean, someday. Maybe. Or as a quick Google search defined it, "in the indefinite future (used to indicate procrastination)." Perfect description. Nothing drives an expatriate crazier than indefinite procrastination, or "mañana." 

Nothing that is, unless it's asking for driving instructions. In the antediluvian, pre-GPS 1990s in Mexico, this was a minefield of cultural misunderstanding. Expatriates would ask for guidance as how to get to somewhere, the Mexican accosted would politely respond with an invented fiction of how to get there. The Mexican knew it wasn't exactly true, but they also didn't want to disappoint the expatriate. That would have been rude.

So some expatriates jumped to stereotyping "them" as liars; hadn't the expatriate been given purposely lousy instructions? Paranoia set in, the expatriate lapsed into believing it was all a plot to get the foreigner, the gringo!

Happily I learned a work around from my expatriate friend's Mexican chauffeur. Watching the chauffeur stop repeatedly to ask for help from various people, I asked what he was doing. "Oh, Señora," he smiled, happy to share his insight. "Knowing that everyone I ask will always give me some answer, I simply thank the person and move on to ask someone else. When two of the answers agree, then I know I have the possible right answer."

Simple, but it worked.

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    Candace Drimmer

    I was an accidental expatriate; love and marriage led me to it. One day I was a bandy-legged kid sitting atop my dogwood tree looking out of my small backyard world in 1950s New Jersey, wanting to move somewhere--anywhere, different. Next thing I knew my father had accepted a job in Houston TX. I was ecstatic, it was a foreign land in 1961 America. After high school graduation, my parents’ gave me a matched set of fawn-colored hardsided American Tourister luggage. Taking the hint, I went to college; well four colleges in five years--it was the 60s after all. Meeting a young hirsute anti-war, soon-to-be-Peace Corps volunteer, I fell in love. After finishing up college coursework for my degree, but before I even walking a graduation stage, I grabbed the paper airline ticket my boyfriend had sent me, my brand-new passport, and was off to the airport and Lima, Peru.

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