Adjustments: Asking for Directions

This post actually deals with much more than just asking for directions, but I learned this cultural lesson by asking for directions…the wrong way. This is a hard adjustment. I catch myself doing it wrong often. I first learned this lesson shortly after arriving in Argentina. I was in downtown La Plata. La Plata is set up as a grid, with each road as a number. So if you are on road 7, the next block will take you to road 8, and so on (to my knowledge, La Plata is the only city that is set up this way in Argentina). The problem is that you can get turned around and even though you are on “road 7″, you are not sure if the next block takes you to “road 8″ or “road 6″. I have been confused like this, especially when walking. This was the case one night, so I walked up to a policeman and said (all in Spanish), “Excuse me, can you tell me if I this is the way to road 8 or do I need to go the oposite direction?” That was what I said. This seems pretty normal at first glance, but this is not considered polite. The officer did not answer my question, only responded to me by saying, “Buenas Noches.” (Good Evening in Spanish). He did not appreciate how I spoke to him. I was very rude. I quickly realized that I asked the question prematurely, asked him to forgive me, and started off with “Good evening. How are you?” That is how you ask questions here, you start off with a greeting, and depending, you may ask them how they are. Here is an example (in English)…

 “Good day.” (wait for the person to respond with “Good day”.) Do you know what time the bread store opens this afternoon? (wait for the answer.) Thank you very  much. Have a good day.

This is how you ask for any information. This is true via text as well. It is not a bad thing at all, it is actually a beautiful way to converse, but it is quite an adjustment to make and I find myself starting to ask a question, stopping and greeting the person, and then proceeding to ask the question afterwards. Hopefully it will be something with that time we will be able to do without thinking about it.

Some adjustments are made very quickly while others take time. Check back for the next post to learn more about another “adjustment” we are making in Argentina.

Adjustments: Saying Hello

There are many ways to say hello in the United States. Depending on how well you know the person, it may just be a head nod, a handshake, and sometimes even a hug. If the relation is familial, the greeting can even be a kiss, but this is only to those you are extremely closely related to. In other words, I never greet the people in our church in the States with a kiss. This would be at best “very strange”, and at worst worthy of a strong confrontation. That is the way things are in the States. On the other hand, there are many times when a person walks into a room of people, and instead of shaking everyone’s hand and greeting them, the person just gives a simple head nod and says “Hello”. This is perfectly acceptable in some contexts.

In Argentina, things are totally different. It would be considered rude to give a small head nod to people. I have watched someone come in late to an event, and to greet every single person who is in the room individually. This is strange to me, but then, it is not strange at all, I am the strange one. The adjustment must be made to greet everyone! For example, when you walk in to a church, you greet every single person. The way we greet people here differs depending on how well you know the person just like in the States. If it is your first time meeting them, and it is a man meeting another man, a simple hand shake will suffice (along with a kind word). If a man is meeting a woman, a kiss on the cheek is customary. When I use “kiss on the cheek”, I mean cheek to cheek and making a kissing sound. The same goes with a woman meeting a woman, a cheek to cheek kiss. When two men who are friends greet each other, they do so with a cheek to cheek kiss. If they are really close, it is a cheek to cheek kiss along with a strong hug. This is how we greet. There is obviously nothing inappropriate going on in these greetings, it is just the customs. This adjustment was made almost immediately for us. There are tricky times when you don’t know if you are supposed to greet with a kiss or not (an Argentine friend tells me even they have those uncomfortable times when they are not sure how to greet someone), but most of the time I just go in for the cheek to cheek kiss. My kids have all adjusted to this as well. It is now just a part of our lives.

Adjustments: An Introduction

I am still learning to adjust my way of life as well as the way I think. We have lived in Argentina for 1 year and 2 months. A missionary must adjust his life. This is not done overnight. It takes time, effort, and a lot of learning. I have learned … [Continue reading]