This is living and learning in a different culture. Sure, I’ve lived in a foreign country. I soaked in all the culture of Argentina that I’m practically an Argentine trapped in a North American’s body. Sure, I speak fluent Spanish. And it is true that I have traveled extensively in my life…to twenty different countries to be precise. Despite all that, nothing compares to living on the East Coast just across the waters from Manhattan. Just walking around the streets gives me so much of a different perspective.
We live in an area known as Little Havana. It’s about 90% Latino in our town of West New York, mostly Cuban but mixed in with Colombian, Dominican, Puerto Rican, Mexican, Argentine, Salvadoran, and Ecuadoran. Yes, the Latinos mix together. The Spanish is unique, with Cuban/Dominican/Puerto Rican hues and vastly different vernacular from what I am used to speaking. The Spanglish is completely different. I’ve never actually traveled to the Caribbean, being that I’m not a beach person. Even talking with Marco’s (my fiancé) mom requires a Dominican Spanish to English dictionary. Cuban and Dominican Spanish is non-existant in Texas. It’s all Mexico and El Salvador. But in Texas, every culture is segregated.
Now when I explain the different dialects to non-Spanish speaking white folk, they often are confused. Well, think about it. Do all English-speaking countries sound alike and use the same vernacular and vocabulary? How similar is American English to South African English? That should give people a better idea of the differences amongst the Spanish-speaking nations.
I’ve also never been to a place for an extended period of time where men ritually hang out at the ghetto-fabulous barber shop right around the corner from our block. Here, men, fathers and sons visit the barber as often as the rain drops in Florida at 3:00 pm every day or as frequent as a hooker in Times Square in the 80s and 90s. With music jamming and the door wide open, it’s an intriguing cultural context where they chill even if they’re not getting a hair cut. Never mind the styles…or lack thereof. It’s so full of life.
In general, most people are short and to the point. I’m a “let’s build a rapport so you can help me even more” kind of guy. That was my approach today after Marco encouraged me to go to Home Depot to buy a snow shovel and ice scraper for winter. So I arrive to the nearest one and have all that I know about snow shovels on a freshly-viewed website on my Android. I walk into the store, where a short lady greets me. I greet her back and let her know “this may sound stupid, but I just moved from Texas and am looking for snow shovels and don’t know much about them.” She tries to tell me about one and then calls the assistance of a co-worker, who led me to snow blowers. Don’t get me laughing about that one, perverts!
“No, I need snow shovels,” I reminded her. She leads me to the gardening section and points to the top of the 40-foot shelf. They are still wrapped and haven’t been displayed yet. She gets other co-workers to grab the fork lift to grab the shovels from heaven. Two men come by and ask me in a very thick New Jersey accent:
“What kind of snow shovel you want?”
“Um, I just moved from Texas and have never bought one before. The kind that doesn’t hurt my back,” I replied while sporting my Texas Longhorn jacket.
“Yea, but what kind?” they laugh and then whisper to a third guy. “He’s from Texas. It snows in Texas.”
“It snows but it doesn’t stick. We don’t have snow plows or salt trucks, and I’ve never bought one of these before.”
“What kind?” one man asks again.
“He doesn’t know!” a second replies.
They weren’t rude and were actually helpful. But short. Something a Texan isn’t used to, even with travel experience. I ended up with an ergonomic, fiberglass snow shovel. They haven’t received the snow brushes or ice scrapers yet.
It’s taking some time to get used to these differences. In the meantime, I’m adapting to my neighbor calling Atticus….”Articus” by thick accent. I now know that “Curb your dog” is code for “don’t let him shit on my porch.” And I’m trying to find a way to stop saying do what when I don’t understand or can’t hear what someone has said. That’s very Texan.
Oh, look at the time! I have Argentine empanadas to eat for dinner. That is bliss.