Saturday, December 5, 2009

Cultural Attitudes

Just when I became accustomed to translating English into Spanish in my head, it was time to journey back to the US. I found myself beginning to talk to the US Customs agent in some broken Spanglish before I realized that they would rather I speak English. Right. Ahem.

One thing that struck me about the Mexicans was how friendly and accepting they were. Everyone hugs everyone, it's much more laid-back, and I found myself greatly enjoying the moments of interaction. During breaks, a few of us headed out to wander the neighborhood and breathe in the fresh, smoggy Mexico air. We also visited a few "changarros" - Mom and Pop stores, to you and me.

There's truly everything there, man. Fresh tamales waiting for purchase in a pot, Empanadas Dulces (sweet filled bread), a crock full of meaty stew. I was tempted to try a tamale, but one look at my co-workers' face told me I should probably rethink that idea, lest Montezuma pay me a visit that night. Nevertheless, I thought the little store was charming.
In the second changarro we visited, I was curious as to how much a single Reese's cup was that hung on a nicely branded, cleverly cloaked fly-strip. He peeled one off the tape and said, "regalo." He was giving it to me. This tiny store, that could have used the 6 pesos that it cost, was giving me this piece of candy. I started to protest when my Mexican coworker whispered, "you have to take it." Okay. Muchas gracias, tan generoso.

Along with this warm spirit and laid-back mojo, though, I did find one slight drawback that taunted my American sensibilities. Things don't start on time. Ever.

Before starting the very first group, I looked at my watch. If we started right then, we'd be on time. 20 minutes later, no start. I began to feel anxious. We only have 90 minutes to begin with, and in the US, if you start late, you still have to end on time. 30 minutes later, no start. But still, I kept my mouth shut. I wasn't running the affair, and anyway, when I glanced at the Mexican team, they didn't seem to be bothered. 35 minutes later, we began. And then we ended 45 minutes after we should have. Not one of the respondents said anything. In the meantime, the next group of folks had been hanging out in the waiting room for a very long time.

Generally, I subscribe to my "college class" rule. If the Prof doesn't show up in the first 10 minutes, class is dismissed! These folks? Still chill as a cucumber. I wish I had that ability. I might have less worry lines...

Now back in the US, I'm watching the very first group, which started precisely at the time prescribed. I have just listened to a gentleman say to the moderator, "Hey, you know, you've got 21 more minutes, and then I have to go. Will you be done by then?" Sir, are you sure we don't have 22 minutes? Because that's what MY watch says.

Boy, we're definitely not in Mexico anymore...

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