Was invited by a co-worker to go with him to San Salvador, El Salvador. He has family and friends there. Just got back to the states yesterday. Just wanted to share my experience with everyone.
First of all and most importantly, as an American, English only speaker, you will not survive in this city if you can't speak Spanish. San Salvador doesn't base their economy on tourism so people there just don't go out their way to try to speak English to you. Everyone assumes you speak Spanish. Another words, don’t go there thinking that you’re going to have your American butt kissed, because you won’t. You will have to learn Spanish and assimilate into the culture rather quickly.
My friends family was so nice to me even though they knew I couldn't understand or speak a word of Spanish. Although, I could not converse with any of them, I have never felt so comfortable around people as I did during my visit.
The El Salvadorians have a strong since of family and friendship. It’s hard for me to explain but I’ll try. For example, My friend would be walking down the street and would start long conversations with complete strangers like they knew each other for years. (of course I was just standing there like a dummy). Another words, everyone talks to everyone. It’s just the way it is. No snobs, or phonies. The lawyers and doctors hang out with the waiters and security guards. Everyone is equal. Of course, just like anywhere else, you have the rich who live in gated communities, but they are few and far between.
Mostly everyone else is working class and unfortunately many are really poor. However, there does seem to be a growing middle class, as more students graduate from the University and start businesses.
I also met and hung out with a diamond named Lilyann - sort of resembled Angelina Jolie, but a little shorter with a fun and caring personality to die for. All I have to say on this topic is that my next wife will probably not be American – Enough said!
Anyhow, one month prior to my trip, I purchased the Rocket Spanish course and started studying. I learned some very basic words, but didn’t have time to learn enough to hold a conversation. My goal at this point is to master this course and possibly one other by next year. (My friend and me are seriously looking into buying a beach house there so when we go again next year, it’ll be for both business and pleasure)
My advice to all who are planning on visiting a Spanish country is to study and learn the language. Once you do, I think you'll find a home away from home.
May 15, 2006
It's such a fantastic experience to immerse yourself in another culture so different from your own. That's one wonderful thing that we Westerners often notice about Latin cultures: they're so much more family-oriented and social.
One thing that's interesting to think about, though, is how when we enter into a new culture we usually go through the five stages of culture shock - whether or not we're aware we're going through it. We think that we've succeeded when we reach the "honeymoon phase" of being in a new culture, where everything is wonderful. However, just like in the honeymoon phase of a relationship, our understanding of the culture is still incomplete.
As a former Peace Corps volunteer I can attest that having a long-term relationship with a culture (e.g. living in a foreign country for several years) certainly ends up looking a lot like the culture shock model. Even when you think you've assimilated into the culture, you still have another stage to go through: that of "re-entry," or reverse culture shock, when you return home.
I always recommend that anyone planning on spending a lot of time abroad should study the stages of culture shock to become a bit more aware of the feelings they'll go through when they live in a new culture.
May 16, 2006
Amy, would you please elaborate more on these 5 stages and more about your experiences going through them. I am faced with I call "gringo fear factor". I am getting more comfortable with my Mexican friends now but because I cannot interact with them comfortably in their language yet, I still feel like an outsider and that has led to a very akward bonding process. Language is a big part of interacting and much is lost in translation.
When I talk with people in English, I change the way I talk to them based on how well I know them. It can range from very polite to very casual. For example: "I would really appreciate it if you would do me a big favor and pass that brush over to me - thanks a lot" OR "c'mon, just gimme the darn thing". It all depends on the level of comfort I have with each person. I probably even use my language to let the other person know where I am at with them.
So, I am looking for some advice on how to go about this. I still feel a bit uncomfortable with the subject of "politeness". I hear the way they talk to each other in Spanish and I am reluctant to jump in and start talking to them like that because I often mess up and say something inappropriate. Not only do I have the foreign language barrier, there are also cultural differences between us as well. Is this just a normal thing that I need to work through? I'd appreciate any advice you could offer.
May 17, 2006
Here's a great article on culture shock:
One of the things that I've become fascinated with is how standards of politeness vary as a function of language. For example, whereas I found that people were very forgiving of me addressing them as "tú" (the Spanish verb for this is *tutear*) in Latin America, the same mistake would probably _not _be looked on forgivingly in France, where people are naturally more formal.
In school, I was taught to be polite first and then slip into *tú *only if they addressed me as *tú* first. But in actual experience, I found that people my own age got the greatest laugh out of me when I used *usted* to address them. I also found that there are situations where a person can address you as *tú* but you_ have_ to address them as *usted* (e.g., with a boss).
I found that the least forgiving people with errors of politeness were the indigenous peoples, who often addressed one another with great respect (the entire family from grandparent to child using "usted" with one another). When some Canadian foreign exchange students came to our village, they committed the horrible error of not saying "Good morning" to everyone they passed. Villagers thought they were very rude.
Yet in the city, people have been exposed to enough Western culture that they're often eager to address you as tú and are quite forgiving of your attempts to speak their language.
I know that none of this answers your question precisely, but I don't believe there's any firm answer! My advice would be this:
1. When you're in groups, focus on listening.
2. When you're one on one with someone, focus on talking.
That way, you never interrupt the flow of a group with inappropriate comments, but you still get plenty of practice talking with someone who's willing to put in the time understanding what you say and correcting you.
May 18, 2006
Gracias Amy !! I appreciate your advice, it sounds like a great approach.
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