Surviving in the jungle of impoliteness.

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Tales of a very polite Mexican girl

Being raised in a Mexican family means listening the grownups constantly telling you things like: “say good morning”, “say good afternoon”, “give him/her a kiss”, “say thank you”, “what’s the magic word again? “(every time you asked for something but you forgot to say please) or, my favorite one, “did we sleep together?” (when you just saw somebody and you didn’t say “good morning, did you sleep well last night?”).

Growing up in Mexico, I got used to these polite words you say, even to the strangers on the street, and even when we don’t really feel like asking them how their night was, because you couldn’t care less. In other words, this small talk was a daily occurrence during my whole life. I never stopped for one second to think that maybe this was not so common all over the world, that this politeness was more of a Mexican thing.

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The reason I’m telling you this is for you to understand my astonishment and confusion when I first arrived in Germany. Excited as I was, I would be walking around all smiles and kindly greeting the people at stores or whoever I asked for instructions at the street.  “Guten Morgen!” “Guten Tag!” You could tell I had a very poor German accent but very Mexican politeness back then. However, sooner than later, I realized the reaction of the people around me wasn’t exactly what I would expect. Few times did I receive a smile back after saying good morning! Saying “bless you” to random people on the streets seemed like a thing aliens would do, and ironically enough, this would indeed make them smile. Or even in the subway, where of course it is common to struggle with crowds, here it seemed like the motto was to push as many people as you can on your way or as we would say in Mexico “¡quítate que ahí te voy!”.

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But it wasn’t until I was hanging out with my new German friend that I realized something here was different. She was one of the first people I met in this country and by this time I already considered her my friend, so when I saw her my first reaction was to hug her as I would with any of my friends. Her reaction: she froze a little and almost immediately she stepped back. Was she angry with me? Maybe she didn’t consider me a friend as I did, well…No! The only truth was that we had completely different cultural backgrounds and to her, it is not a common thing to hug people she just recently met.

That was when it hit me: I was living in a different country and the things that to me seemed perfectly normal, were weird and maybe even rude to them. So I discovered that they were not being impolite, but instead, I was being too polite or simply Mexican.

Since then I became more conscious about these differences. But even now I still laugh a little every time I find a new one, or every time I hear someone sneeze and I inevitably say “bless you!” and then I see the surprise on their face.

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