Understanding Hispano – Latino Culture
Many aspects of Latin American life have already been discussed on this site, such as importance of the family unit in everything, but I just want to start mentioning a few other interesting observations I have made over the years in regard to understanding Hispanic Latino culture. I hope you find them amusing or interesting and I will bring up many more in future posts. Certainly, if you have visited Latin America, you will recognize some of these:-
When visiting anywhere in the world, there will be times when you need to ask directions. I found out the hard way on more than one occasion, that this seemingly simple request is not as straight forward in some parts of Latin America.
Here is a tip for you – when you ask someone, for example where is the nearest bank, you need to ask at least two people and if you get two different answers, keep asking until you have at least two people that give you the same directions. Why? Because if you ask directions from someone in the street and they don’t know, they will just invent an answer because they hate to admit their lack of knowledge. The fact that you may end up wandering aimlessly for a while is of little importance to them, after all, what is a few extra minutes? It took me a couple of trips until I figured this out, but now I’m prepared. On one occasion, I did actually have to ask five different people before I managed to get a “set of two” the same.
Visits to people’s homes are not planned.
If you are lucky enough to move to the region, don’t be surprised by unannounced visits. Generally, if someone wants to go over and see you, they will often just go, so don’t assume people will call ahead. They have a saying, “mi casa es su casa” (my house is your house), and for the most part, they mean it.
Table manners In the home
My first visit to dine with friends was very much a cultural shock for me. While the actual table manners were excellent all around, a few things did leave me surprised even though it was not a “formal dinner”:
- The father of the family was served first, which was fine, but when he finished first, he just left the table.
- No words of thanks (except by me, due to my upbringing) were offered to the person who prepared the meal, in this case, the mother. Generally, gratitude for the meal is assumed and they do not deem it necessary to be expressed. I still always do express my thanks and will continue to do so – nobody will think you are weird if you do this by the way!
If a lack of internet connection, enjoy it while you can.
Sadly and selfishly on my part, more and more people of the region are becoming connected to the net through wifi, etc. This has resulted in, as has happened elsewhere in the world, the people, particularly the young, sitting or walking around staring at their phones. There are still many areas where connectivity is almost non-existent, such as most of Cuba, where I often travel. For me it means a couple of things:
- It gives me a break from constantly being overly accessible.
- People actually talk to other people. The average Cuban can probably hold a more intelligent conversation than most other people on this planet.
Latin Americans generally hate confrontation and will avoid conflict as much as possible.
They also hate saying no. This doesn’t mean they will always say yes – if the answer is negative, they would rather the request, question just drifts away and dies. There is a sense that a personal relationship will be badly damaged if they have to say “no” to someone.
The locals are used to waiting in lines at government offices,hospitals, basically anywhere. They will wait without complaining (usually), and are quite accustomed to being shunted from department to department. Being told to come back the following day, even after waiting for hours, is accepted.
Crucial in this part of the world. I spent a few years setting up businesses here and much of that time, I was accompanied by our local lawyer. As stated elsewhere on this site, more time was initially spent getting to know the individuals we were dealing with as opposed to getting “straight to business” as we are accustomed to. Generally the lawyer knew or had come to know the official with whom we were meeting and invariably told me, it’ll be okay, he/she’s my friend. In many cases, he had only either previously met with them for a few minutes or simply had a brief phone conversation – regardless, they were “amigos mios”.
Respect For Authority
In Latin America, the respect for authority, for position, for profession is much more pronounced than in Europe and North America. These “authority figures” are far less likely to be questioned here than they would be in many other parts of the world.
Many people have been surprised by this as Latin America often conjures up images of revolutions and civil wars, etc.
When you get to know the locals, you will probably realize that the people must have been pushed to breaking point in the past before revolting against the governments of the day. That however will be the subject of a future post.
As we mentioned above, they do not like confrontation and are more likely to accept a situation than try and change it.
Assume Lots Of Things
The locals seem to assume a lot. In Europe and North America we are always told to “assume nothing, question everything”.
In Latin America for example, if they ask you to pick up something for them, they will not be calling after an hour to ask where it is – they asked you to pick it up, you said you would bring it, so everything is OK, they assume you will bring it when you can. Generally, when may not be important.
By contrast, if you ask a Latino to pick up something for you and don’t specify a time, they will not appreciate you following up an hour or so later asking where their item is. Again, they said they would bring it, so that is that!
In future articles, we will have much more advice, commentary and observations to bring you. In the meantime, give yourself a great gift – the gift of a language that opens up this amazing world for you………….