5. Ways of saying things

I love this one. It’s the 3rd most mentioned thing when it comes to Cultural Shock. The way we say things might create misunderstandings, but most of them are funny, and they can all be solved the same way they were generated: by communication. We, both locals and visitors, just need to be open to communicate, or more precisely, to be open to different ways of communication, and open to communicate about communication itself. It already sounds messy but it’s not.
To sum it up: we are pretty expressive, with our whole body, specially our hands, we are pretty loud, we use the same nicknames in friendly and insulting ways, and we tell and ask people we’ve just met things that other cultures would wait 3 years to mention, or would never talk about, or only if drunk and then act as if it didn’t happen. But we can also make a lot of roundabouts to say or ask something that, in my experience, people from many other cultures would say or ask straight, looking you in the eye. And it is not about stereotypes, or being an introvert or extrovert, cause obviously every country can have the whole spectrum from one extreme to the other. It is how we handle communication, cultural standards about what to say and express and not, when, how, to whom.

Here are some examples:
– I’m from here and sometimes I am not able to tell if two people in the corner are fighting or just chatting. It could be any, just by watching them shaking their arms and yelling: they could be two friends so happy to meet or just about to punch each other badly over an awful argument.
– My dad says my mom wouldn’t be able to talk if she had her hands tied. We never tried, but we know.
– It remains a mystery how we, when meeting with family or friends, can talk so much so loud and everybody at the same time and still be able to catch up.
– We can ask for a coffee or the bill to the waiter across the restaurant without saying one single word, just with a small gesture of our hand.
– We can call our best friend “boludo”, which is in fact an insult, but it can also be affectionate depending on the tone and context, the same as body shape related or nationality nicknames. “Gordo” means fat, and it is a very common nickname for friends and family, pretty affectionate most of the time, and not necessarily related to the person’s actual body shape. Many people call their SO and/or children “gordo”, or “gorda”, or even other people’s babies “gordito” in the most affectionate way.
– We use diminutives a lot, specially when talking about something we love, as food, naps, travel (comidita, siestita, viajecito), or when making a request (esperame un ratito, dame un pedacito, una consultita, una ayudita).

And a short story:
When I interview people from other countries, visitors, volunteers and interns, in order to match them with local organizations, most of them (99% I would say with my mind and heart, but without ever having measured it) do not hesitate to tell me what they are interested in, what they wouldn’t like to do, what they think they are good at, and to ask a couple of questions that are important to them, often trying to anticipate way more than an Argentine could ever dream to be able to anticipate. In the beginning, when I first found myself in front of a 19 years old, telling me “I’m very good at this and that, I’ve got this and this experience, I don’t want to be making copies, and I won’t be available on Fridays cause I’m planing to travel every weekend”, inside I was like “and who do you think you are, Miss Entitled Arrogant?”. And then I learnt fast, ’cause I’m a fast learner, a good observer, an amazing interviewer, a reasonable self questioning person and an inter-cultural experiences lover. I mean: I learned to detect and state my own assets, as you may have just noticed, and I learned that I’m not even interested in judging if it is arrogant or not ’cause, as far as I’m concerned, in an interview that’s efficient. I need to know those things, and a few more that I also learnt to clearly ask, in order to help that person find the opportunities that best fit both her/him/they and the host organization. It provides us a map and a shortcut.
On the other hand, the one thing that I can anticipate to any applicant before introducing them to any local organization is: you may have a very nice 2 hours conversation with them, it can feel very friendly, interesting and welcoming, you may end up very happy. And later discover that you’ve got zero information and no idea what’s next. That’s what we do. Not on purpose. Maybe our focus is not that much on efficiency when communicating, maybe we are not trying to be as clear as quickly as possible, and we don’t save words and gestures. Our communication is more wired on feelings, we can create an atmosphere, enjoy a conversation and maybe start a bond.
You end up feeling good. Information is something way more easy to get than that.
So, enjoy the conversation, be thankful, and then ask all the important info you might need: What would I be doing here? What would be my schedule? When can I start? Who would be my supervisor? May I have that person’s cellph/email? What’s next? Bla bla bla.

That’s what I’m saying: we can be different, we can meet at some point in the middle, where we can both learn, share and enjoy something, and we can still be different, but both a bit wiser and broader and respectful. Can’t we?

Share your thoughts and experiences: miguialoreta@gmail.com

4. Rules Blurers

Rules are rules. Well… we are not that Aristotelian in that matter. And that’s the second most mentioned issue when it comes to cultural shock. To us rules are more like clouds: we can see different forms in them, they come and go with the wind, they might look perfect sometimes but they still get between us and sunshine, and they are far away up there moving much slower than reality down here. Our relationship with rules can go from a small, decent, pragmatic and necessary flexibility to a 100% mafia approach. I’m talking about both behavioral not written rules, and the Law. We might be more attached to the former. I think it has a historical explanation, and a mix of factors as education, real and perceived impunity, a pretty unpredictable reality with not much linear outcomes. The thing is we might be creating more unpredictability this way. In some areas, and for some visitors it might seem edgy, adventurous, free, much fun, or sometimes tiring, crazy or dangerous, depending on their age and background, how structured is their own mindset and culture, and their concrete experiences here. And it is, again, all about balance: while a too structured life may feel lifeless and too predictable, too much unpredictability is stressful and some structure is needed at least as the basis from which to take off.

So, here comes the beauty of intercultural experiences: you are invited to join us, and enjoy your unpredictability rush, and feel a little wild, and also to bring and share your own mindset towards rules. It is ok if you are taking a walk with your Argentine friend and suddenly Argie is across the street staring at you with a clear “What’s wrong with you?” expression, ’cause Argie automatically crossed when realizing cars weren’t coming that fast and you automatically stopped when seeing the “don’t walk” sign. You can keep respecting traffic signs and other rules. In order to learn from each other, we need to still be each other at some point. And it might be not just automatic for you but reasonably safer. Sometimes. Because you need to remember that some Argie drivers will not stop at red lights. So it is not all about just sticking to the rules, but to handle this double standard of respecting basic rules yourself / not expecting anybody else to necessarily do it. That’s how daily unpredictability feels. It’s like a dance where a dancer is following a choreography and the other one might improvise at any moment. It can be tiring sometimes, even a mess, but it can also be lively and challenging, bring up unexpected beautiful moves, develop creativity and adaptive skills, and enrich the dance and both dancers.

Of course unpredictability is not just made of a no-rules mindset. It has to do with politics and economics, climate change,  human limitations, life. Too much of it is unlivable. Too little is unrealistic and not even desirable. The thing is that our attachment to, and detachment from, rules and structures can contribute to one extreme or the other.

I guess the difference is that we here tend to see rules only as restrictive instead as a basic common platform that can free as from some worries. We could make some space in our minds and spirits if we could walk more relaxed instead of extremely attentive to a totally unpredictable traffic. But I don’t want our improvisation muscle to weaken due to unchallenging circumstances. Am I asking for too much? Noooooo. I’m just inviting you and everybody to share inter-cultural experiences, with open minds and hearts, so we can all be who we are but enriched, refreshed and awakened.

Share your questions and thoughts miguialoreta@gmail.com