Friday, 30 March 2012

Being ill in another country

As many of you know, I twisted my ankle a couple of weeks ago, the evening of St. Patrick's. No, the accident didn't happen due to the alcohol consumption. I've gotten on and off the bus thousands of times while being... let's say... not sober. I have the chance of injuring myself at any given minute. What the alcohol DID do was to make me believe that I was getting off the bus from work to get on my other bus, because I always take 2 buses to go from work back home. But I was already in the right bus. I didn't have to exchange buses, and I wasn't even coming back from work. So I didn't see where (or how) I was stepping, and I fell to the ground with my ankle twisted. It's ironic, I was wearing flats. A stranger (a hipster, I must add) helped me to get up and sit on the bench to wait for the next bus. Anyway, injuries always happen in the most ridiculous forms. Like when I was 8 years old at a friend's birthday party. We had gone to the pool for the day, and while waiting for the taxi to take us back to the city (we were out in the suburbs), me, the birthday girl and another girlfriend went to the trampoline to jump and have a little bit more of fun. I might have positioned my foot wrong when landing, because when I hit the trampoline again I just went down and started to cry. I saw my foot hanging from the leg, and started to scream because it was too painful. Even my friends had to get off the trampoline when they saw my deformed foot. The doctor diagnosed a fissure in the bone. I had to wear a cast for 2 months IN THE MIDDLE OF SUMMER! The most boring summer of my life, I assure you. I even had to miss the first day of school to have a checkup with the doctor.

During those 2 months I recall my friends coming to visit me. My uncle Alex, who lived downstairs from us with his wife and 3 kids visited me a bunch of times with my cousins. Specially my cousins came because my house was a bit bigger to play in, and we were all kids. They wanted to play and laugh. Maybe that's why now that I think about it, it must have been a boring summer, but I always had surprise visits. My grandmother, my mom's mom, lived a block and a half from us, and with her lived my aunt Lucy and her son, my cousin Adolfo, a year and a half younger than me; and my uncle Hernan. All of them came at least four times to visit me. They'd bring me ice cream, candies, or just plain company. I always liked to chat with the adults. With anybody, really. I was a very talkative kid. And I had always hated awkward silences as well. But this is family. There are no awkward silences. With them I could talk about what colour was my poo that day.

I remember one day my uncle Alex took me, my sister, my cousin Adolfo, and his kids (my cousins Sandra, Ivan and Jorge) to the park across the street. My cousins were playing football (or as North America knows as soccer), and I was watching them with my cousin Sandra and my uncle. We were laughing at how bad one of my cousins was playing, and I clearly remember my cousin Ivan kicking the ball so hard so he can hurt his younger brother, Jorge. But even when he got hurt, he would laugh. And every time Jorge would get hit hard, everybody would be in dead silence because it clearly was painful. But he would just burst laughing his head off, and so all of us. At one point, the ball came my way, and I got up and kicked the ball. My foot was feeling great! I even started walking with the cast! My uncle Alex and Sandra cheered as I started my "first steps" after the accident, even though I wasn't supposed to walk yet. It was a very interesting summer for sure.

Living in a different country that is not yours has been definitely a challenge for my family and me. There is the language barrier, the different culture (cultureS in our case, Canada has a variety of ethnicities and cultures), we came here knowing nobody, we had no place to stay, no jobs waiting for us. After 4 years, we have managed to overcome most of those things, even some family members moved here a couple of years ago. But as I am writing this in my bed, with my foot on ice and unable to walk, I have to say it feels... very lonely. My best friend here, Fiorella, has come to visit. Jeff has come once as well. My cousins Silvana and Astrid came by last week. Outside my window the sky is grey, and judging by the tree in front of my house, it's windy, too. I'm kinda glad. If it would be beautiful out, I'd be pissed that I can't go out and enjoy it! If I suffer, the city suffers!!! Hahaha...

But there are no more family coming over to chat with, nobody would come and bring me candy, or take me to the park to watch kids play. No friends that would come at once, sneaking a beer or two to share and talk and laugh. Days like this I miss home. I am sure my uncle Alex would send my cousin Sandra and my cousin Jorge up to my place to give me some company, at least once a week. And that my friends would drop by after work and give me a chocolate or some chips. People here are not like in home. Most of them, at least. They are too busy. They don`t get too personal. They need their space...
I think even seeing the face of my enemies would cheer me up on a day like this!

Monday, 26 March 2012

How To Behave When Meeting Latin American Parents

A couple of weeks ago, my dad FINALLY met my boyfriend! After being so stubborn, he eventually was "ready" and accepted to have a small introductory chat with him.
However, Jeff and me were a bit uneasy about how it was all going to turn out. After all, we come from different cultures (he's Canadian, I'm Peruvian) and our understanding on what is polite or what is correct may not be the same.
Luckily, both times that Jeff got to talk to my dad (yes! Twice already!!) went pretty well; but after talking on the phone with him about what else he would've done or talked about with my dad, I realized we both needed some ABC on what to do and what not to do when meeting parents.

When introducing to Latin American parents, first of all you need to know how much English they know. Maybe they don't speak it at all, which means awkward silences are going to be dominating the first encounter. If they don't speak English, you need to learn at least five very important things in Spanish:

#1 Me llamo ______. Mucho gusto. [My name is _____. Nice to meet you.]
#2 Yo no hablo mucho espanol. [I don't know too much Spanish]
#3 Muchas gracias. [Thank you very much]
#4 Si, gracias. / No, gracias. [Yes, thank you. / No, thank you]
#5 Senor / Senora. [Mr. / Mrs.]

If they do speak English, ask to your partner how well they speak it. Some people speak it slowly (because is not their native language), whereas others have more domain of the language. If they do speak it fluidly, then you better have a list of possible topics to break the ice to make it less awkward. Hopefully your partner will participate, too, to help make the conversation more interactive.

Number five is tricky, though. You see, in Canada it's polite to call everybody by their first names. So if I am white, I'll be presenting my dad to my boyfriend as Robert*, and my mom as Alice*. To most white people, being called by last name is not correct and even considered rude. In Latin American countries, being called by their first name is a sign of disrespect. They might not be offended, but they won't like you for sure. They preferred to be called by last names. In this case, I won't be introducing my parents with my last name because my boyfriend is supposed to know my full name by now!! Introducing should go like this:

Me: Jeff, this is my dad.
Jeff: Nice to meet you, Mr. Villa.
Me: And this is my mom.
Jeff: Nice to meet you, Mrs. Villa.

After that intro, you don't need to call them by last names anymore for the rest of the conversation. Simply "Sir" or "Ma'am" will do. It is also important to shake hands, as Latin Americans believe in physical contact, as opposed to North American countries in which a nod of the head is usually enough.

These are just the basics. There are so many differences between cultures about what is correct to do in one but not in the other. But for now, this is all you need to know about meeting your Latin American girlfriend/boyfriend's parents. It's a very interesting culture that will get less complicated with time and communication. So, embrace it! =)

[*] Different names used to protect the identity of the individuals.