I believe that most cultures are defined by outsiders. How do we know what our own culture is until we compare it with others? Other cultures that we’ve already judged, defined, and categorized? If English were the only language that existed, would it still be English? No…it wouldn’t need a name. It’s strange because I have different thoughts when I think in Spanish. Not only are there words in Spanish that don’t even exist in English (and vice versa), but the sentences are structured differently and spoken differently. All of these components incite a new way of thinking or at least compel me to think of a situation differently; language is the lens through which we interpret the world and I think that sometimes we don’t realize how much of an influence that lens has…but I’m getting off topic (sorry!).
Right now, living in a completely different culture than my own, I’m really starting to see the “iceberg” effect that professors and program directors went over and over and over drilling into our heads from orientation to orientation when we decided to study abroad. No one who’s ever spent a year or a semester abroad with a program will be able to truthfully say that they haven’t seen this picture defining culture, or at least something similar.
Discovering more than ten percent of the ice berg is hard to do in four months, which is why I’m once again grateful that I’m staying for the entire year. Recently, I’ve been wading through some of the shallower waters and getting to know the Argentina that lies under the tip of the iceberg and that’s exactly what I’m here for.
Today though, I’m not going to talk so much about ARGENTINE culture as my own. (I think most of my friends and I have reached a general consensus that I am a “Station” which I will spell “Statian” from here on out. This seems to be a nonoffensive yet appropriate identifier for people or concepts from the United States. It’s not as seemingly derogatory and negative as Yankee feels to me, nor is it as rude and egotistical as calling ourselves American. So yeah. Done.) Because I’m learning just as much about my own culture here as I am that of Argentina, I want to talk about a tendency that I have that’s been detrimental, or at least made things more difficult, in the long run to my forming strong relationships here in South America: my constant apologetic attitude. (The pictures are going to be totally random things from my new camera haha but don’t get too distracted…sorry…)
It’s like I’m constantly carrying around this guilt that I walk on the same planet as those around me. I say sorry for EVERYTHING and I drop words of apology left and right. This is at first very sweet and polite, maybe even cute and adorable (I’m not flattering myself, just true <3), but it quickly becomes pesado (direct translation for this word is “heavy” but it means annoying.) I think it sometimes frustrates my friends that I can’t just accept a favor or a kind word and let it be. I feel bad that I step on someone’s foot on the colectivo, I feel bad that I am 5-45 minutes late to meetings, I feel bad that my friend had a bad day, I feel bad that someone bought me a drink, I feel bad that a friend of a friend came to the club we were at and doesn’t look like he/she is having too much fun. I need to STOOOOPPP! But the problem is that I don’t know how because it’s a part of the way I grew up and the way that I’ve learned to conduct myselfl There’s a fine line, however, between being polite and being just plain irritating. I haven’t learned to walk it quite yet and I fear I fall on the side of irritating a bit too often (sorry!)
I think that this problem of mine gets on my friends nerves a lot, but my host mom’s even more. I know Guillo reads my blog a lot so I’m kind of self-conscious writing this next part but whatever. Bue, ya estááááá, no pasa naaaada, as they say. I am worried that my host mom doesn’t like me. This, I’m sure, has a lot to do with my remorseful habits…I mean, I can count the number of times I’ve done my laundry in South America on one hand because I just feel guilty asking her to do it and I didn’t feel comfortable trying to get her to teach me the machine either. Now, thankfully, I know how to use it because she’s been in Mexico for two weeks and I got my host brother to teach me. It’s seriously just put soap in and press go, but I didn’t know if there was a special way or anything and Carmen (my API Director) told us that we should just let them do it because it could be considered rude to try and do it yourself… My host mom just always tells me to leave it all there for her to do–and then she hangs it to dry and irons it and everything. I don’t like feeling like I don’t pull my own weight or being pampered–it’s been ground into me since my youth that I shouldn’t let other’s wait on me so sometimes I find myself hoarding my dirty laundry until she asks me. So stupid I know. It’s a combination of shyness and idiotic regret for existing. What am I gonna do with myself–blah. The other reason is that she is always saying that I’m really independent. There’s nothing negative about that, I know…but just something in the way she says it suggests that I’ve been TOO independent It’s so hard though.
I haven’t lived with a family for a long time now and I’m not used to it. I want to be a part of it…but I’m so worried about doing something wrong and so cautious about it that I don’t relax and let myself be. I’ve been improving a lot these last few weeks, but it’s been difficult because I have a lot of conflicting feelings about it. I’ve always tried to be humble and grateful (to an extent haha) and I think I sometimes take it a step too far. I just don’t want to be that one awful student who eats all their host family’s bread and milanesa de soja and takes abnormally long showers, etc. (I use these particular examples because I’m pretty sure I actually do do them =P)
Apparently it bugs Lauti too. I can tell when he’s annoyed with me because I keep saying sorry…which makes me feel bad that I’m being annoying so I continue to apologize and it’s a viscious cycle. The thing is I just can’t tell if this has something to do with Statian (oh dear…that word can easily be typo-ed as Satatian…) culture or if it’s just my personality. I know that I, me, myself, have a personal problem asking for help–like from professors and such. While other kids get huge breaks on their grades, I feel that I don’t have extenuating circumstances or any reason
s to truly deserve them, so I never go talk to my professors. From that point I begin to feel self-conscious and uncomfortable in class, reprimanding myself for not saying anything, and then I stop going to class and eventually start struggling in genuine. Throughout the entire process I never say anything to the professor and by the end I truly do deserve a bad grade. I’ve improved GREATLY here in Argentina because I am working on it, but I have such a long ways to go.
Anyways, maybe this apologetic thing is a mixture of both my personality and US culture. I have heard before that a stereotype of Statians is that we are super polite–saying sorry whenever we bump into people in the streets, cashiers wishing you a nice day after you pay for your groceries, etc. Now that I come to think of it, cashiers here usually just say thank you and skip the nice day thing, but it wasn’t a noticeable difference, and I can totally understand why they wouldn’t wish you a nice day…I mean look at the lines that they have to deal with. We are also stereotyped as being fat, loving fast food, being obnoxiously loud, having an insatiable thirst for alcohol, being ignorant of other cultures and fiercely proud of our own, wasteful and rich, and having insane parties (thank you very much to the movie Project X for forever ruining the world’s perception of us.) I break most of those stereotypes, but I am well aware that I’m obnoxiously loud.
^^I’m surprised that you’re allowed to curse like this in your business name…and post it on public streets. But cursing is much more acceptable (or at least used) here. This is a clothing store I passed in the colectivo the other day.
No matter what the stereotypes are and why I have a problem with being overly self-conscious I know it’s something that I need to work on. So as a final closing statement to this blog I’m going to allow myself one last sorry so that maybe I will say it more seldomly in the future:
^^that’s a link btw^^
*The title of this blog is kind of sarcastic because no one says “lo siento” here and my friends make fun of me for accidentally saying it instead of “discúlpame” or “perdón”; they say I sound like I’m from Mexico or something.