Oh yes I did. I had to jump on the “Stuff Such and Such People Like” bandwagon. I’m sure there is probably even an entire blog already dedicated to this subject (there’s already one as specific as Stuff Expat Aid Workers Like), but I had to give my take and now after traveling in South America for five months, I think I’ve done enough research to compile a substantial list.
Pointing at Stuff With Their Lips – Yes! I never saw this amongst the Puerto Rican side of my family, but have observed this with Mexicans, Peruvians and Ecuadorians and I love it so much, I’ve adopted the practice. It’s usually the men who are doing this and when they do, they end up making adorable puppy faces with slightly creepy undertones. If you’ve only just arrived in South America and are meeting someone for the first time, I can also see how this gesture might draw some more confusion to the international kiss greeting dilemma. But have no fear, no one here wants to kiss you (at least not yet), they just want to point you in the direction of the post office. Using your hands is either rude or lame. Either way, that’s reason enough for me to assimilate.
Watching Telenovelas – I had been previously acquainted with the bad acting and overly dramatic plotlines attributed to the notorious Latin America soap opera, but until recently, I didn’t realize that people actually watched them and enjoyed them. And they don’t run only in the weekday afternoons when the only target audiences would be the unemployed and stay-at-home moms, they run during primetime so nobody misses out on the drama. Even the shrimpmen got down with some Corazon Apasionado in the evenings. This really made me laugh. Here were some tough manly shrimpmen intently sitting down each evening to watch and follow the happenings of rich Latino families in turmoil about who is Alejandra’s baby daddy. Though, I could be naively assuming that they’re really interested in the plotlines as opposed to the boobalicious women gracing the screen.
Monotone Matching – Speaking of women, the next “like” is reserved for the lovely ladies of South America. Merely color coordinating your outfit with complementary colors is child’s play here. If you’re a lady looking to fit in, you’ll take your game to the next level and match all accessories in the same color.
It was first brought to my attention by my Gringa friend Stacey in Perú who noticed how one of our colleagues usually wore eye shadow with the same color as her shirt. Later when traveling in Ecuador, I noticed this oddity again, but at a completely new level. I was in the queue at a KFC (yes, I had a moment of vulnerability) and I saw a woman who was maxed out in purple. She had purple earrings, a purple hat, a purple bag and purple shoes to go along with her purple blouse. I felt like some kind of animal standing next to her in my mint green skirt, blue hikers and black-rimmed glasses. I suddenly felt the urge to look for a shop that was selling eyeglass “skins”.
Sugary Beverages – Vincent D’Onofrio’s alien from Men in Black should have landed in South America because he would never have had to ask for more sugar in his beverages. Latino people love their sugar and don’t hold back in the slightest when they’re flavor enhancing their beverages. My first near diabetic shock came in Perú when I tried Inca Kola for the first time. The first sip was fun. It tasted exactly like bubble gum, but unlike bubble gum, Inca Kola doesn’t lose its flavor after a while. It’s the third or fourth sip where it becomes apparent that someone went a little too Willy Wonka when creating the formula. But Peruvians can’t get enough of this. Coca Cola tried to corner the beverage market down here but couldn’t lure the Peruvians to the more bitter taste of Coke.
The obsession with super sugary beverages continued in Ecuador on the shrimp farm. After the harvests, which usually occurred in the evening after dinner time, the energy drained shrimpmen would have mini-fiestas that included the wacky combination of hamburger rolls and strawberry flavored cola. I’ll admit though, the harvest was tough work and definitely called for a proper carb fest, but on a daily basis, the strawberry cola felt a bit toxic. Be sure to get a proper fluoride treatment before diving into the world of flavored colas in South America.
Not Queueing – While I find most of the quirks mentioned here endearing, this one pisses me off to no end. For people who are supposed to be “muy tranquilo” and very relaxed about time schedules, the fact that they unabashedly cut in front of you in the queue really irritates me. They’ll even look you right in the eye as they’re doing it, which is just overkill in the insult to injury department. Be prepared to battle it out with them, or just point at a sale for Inca Kola with your lips to distract them.
Asking If You’re Married – Finally, if you’re single and venturing off into the world of Latino-ish people, be prepared to explain yourself or be okay with and good at lying. When I arrived on the shrimp farm, the second or third question in the short interrogations I was subjected to with almost everyone, was whether or not I had a boyfriend or husband. When I responded in the negative, the third or fourth question was then, “why?” In United Statesian culture, these kinds of questions are generally not well received so it may come as a bit of a culture shock, but the important thing to remember is the intent behind these questions is sheer curiosity. The Latino-ish people are simply curious about what the fuck is wrong with you that you have to be single. Get over it.
That’s as far as I got with my list. Any additions or rebuttals?