If you’ve been to Latin America you probably have an idea of what this article is about. For those who haven’t, reading this might be a good way to prepare to visit that part of our world. I can assure you that you’ll never get bored.
Let’s start with the misconceptions:
• Latin America is not an untouched and unexplored land. I’ve met so many people that go to Latin America with the mindset of a conqueror. Sorry to disappoint you, but some people got there ahead of you. It’s not all adventure and hidden treasures in Latin America – you will also have to cope with some other less dreamy things (more on that in a later article).
• Please do not try and save us. This is very much related to the previous point. I understand that if you’ve been travelling around Latin America for a year you have a pretty good idea of how things work over there, and I know most of the countries have very “interesting” political situations and characters, but please don’t try to solve in a day what we’ve been trying to solve for years. For us to pay attention to what you’re saying you would probably need to go back in time, to be born in Latin America and to spend a big part of your life there.
• It’s not all one big party. Just because some of your buddies went to Latin America to spend their days in bars and on the beach drinking beer and listening to cheesy music, doesn’t mean that Latin America is just about that. Of course, we enjoy life but there is also more to life that.
So, now that we’ve defined some of the misconceptions we can start with what you can expect from Latin Americans and how to adapt to it.
These are the things you need to know about us:
• Family is the center of the Latin American universe. And by family I mean parents, siblings, grandparents, cousins, uncles, aunts, nieces, in-laws, second cousins, your best friends, the best friends of your parents, the cats and dogs of the family and other beloved pets. People live with their family until adulthood (and beyond) and it’s pretty common that all members know everything about each other and have a say on the life of each of the members of the clan. It might be annoying at times, but sometimes it’s nice to have so many people caring about you.
• Take it easy. This is not Europe, the USA or Japan – why the rush? The bus might come or not (in most of our countries we don’t even have bus timetables), we might go out or not (depending on our mood and many other variables), we might arrive on time or not. Latin America lives on its own very special time zone called “The Take it Easy Time Zone”. There is a reason for this – there are simply too many things that escape our control. We have to deal with bureaucracy, mess and the lack efficient information on a daily basis, so instead of stressing out and losing it, we take it easy.
• Latin Americans love to show their love. When you go to Latin America you are gonna start noticing that people really hug and really shake hands – vigorously – like they mean it. You will also notice that people touch and kiss a lot – hugs here, hugs there, a pat here, a pat there, a kiss here, a kiss there. And most of the time it means nothing more than what it actually is – a simple sign of affection.
• We are loud and we are not aware of it. If you’ve been surrounded by Latin American people you probably can easily recognize us because we’re loud and we never stop talking. Actually, being talkative is a positive characteristic for us. The more talkative and eloquent you are, the more “popular” you are. That said, you can imagine how awkward silence in conversations can be for us. That’s why people never stop talking, they don’t even let other people finish their sentences and since we’re always interrupting one another the volume gradually increases.
• Food is the second most important thing in life. Food is not just about filling our stomachs – it’s not a mere necessity. Eating is a social activity for us that can last for hours – it’s a moment to share and to chat. And if you’re invited to our table you should feel honored.
• Religion is everywhere. First of all, yes about 80% of Latin Americans are Catholics, but many of them are non-practicing. However, religion has nothing to do with going to church. Religion is present in our daily activities. There are innumerable sayings and proverbs related to religion. You will see religious icons on every street corner, people making the sign of the cross constantly and people are also very superstitious when it comes to religious traditions and practices.
• Vanity is a blessing not a curse. People are very self-aware and they take good care of themselves. Actually, girls start doing their nails and hair at an early age (many times encouraged by their moms). For boys and girls it is extremely important to a have a nice body, nice skin and supermodel-sleek hair. No wonder why beauty pageants are so famous in this part of the world.
Do you have any other additions? This list is, of course, a generalization, so please don’t take it too seriously. I am Latin American and many things I have described don’t fit my personality, but I think we all have a little of that typical Latin American within.