Sunday, January 25, 2015

The touch factor

Posted By on Sun, Jan 25, 2015 at 7:18 AM

click to enlarge BRENDA FIGUEROA-GONZALEZ
  • Brenda Figueroa-Gonzalez
Growing up, everyone gets to learn a lesson or two about personal space. That goes double if you weren’t born in this country. My first lesson occurred when I was 12 years old and in the 5th grade. It was my first day at school and I had just made my first REAL American friend. She was a tall, blonde, blue-eyed girl and extremely patient when dealing with my heavy accent and mispronunciation of common English words. She showed me the ropes, gave me a tour of the school, introduced me to her friends and even sat right beside me during lunch. I felt so thankful to be accepted and after the last bell rang, to show my appreciation to my new friend, I reached out to hug her and kiss her on the cheek. She backed away horrified with my attempt. I didn’t understand and frankly, I was embarrassed. 
In my adult recreation of the memory, she sits me down on a bench, crosses her legs and looks in the opposite direction, sipping on a juice box and explains to me that not everyone in America is OK with strangers getting in their personal bubble.

If you haven’t figured it out yet, I’m a hugger. I like hugs — you can categorize me under extroverted and expressive. But I’ve learned to figure out beforehand that if someone rarely hugs their family members, they probably never hug their friends and I have to settle for a handshake.

Latinos, and many other cultures outside of the U.S., are instinctive huggers. We hug loved ones and acquaintances, adding a kiss on the cheek when saying hello or goodbye. We hug when we’re overjoyed and to offer condolences, and we’ll even attempt to hug a non-hugger. We’re a culture of embraces, affection and boisterous personalities. Being close, even touching someone on the arm during conversation, is a sign of being genuine and interested in what the other person has to say.

Suffice to say, we’re perplexed at white America’s reticence and, I’ll say, uptight attitude about being touched. It leads to painful interactions, when a person sticks out their hand and we look mystified as to what to do with it. If you’re trying to shake the hand of a Latino you consider a friend, you may as well spit in their face if that’s the best you can offer.

I haven’t been able to find any concrete evidence as to why America is more uptight than everywhere else in the world since that first day of school.

In Mexico, it’s common to eat at mercados (markets) and find yourself sitting at bigger tables, and often right next to strangers. When you finish your meal, you tell the rest of the table, “provecho! (Have a good meal!),” as you leave. It’s a common courtesy, considered respectful and good manners. Can you imagine that in America? Putting away your tray at Chipotle, and announcing to the restaurant, “Alright bros, enjoy that burrito!” People would think you were crazy. The easiest way to show respect for others at a restaurant in America is to mind your own business.

In any case, if you’re meeting a Latino for the first time, keep in mind that we’ll be OK with a handshake for the initial encounter. After that, however, it has to be a business meeting or similarly inappropriate setting to keep us from wrapping you up.

Brenda Figueroa-Gonzalez returned to Colorado Springs after graduating from Adams State University with her Bachelors in Mass Communications and is usually roaming the Internet, and often found downtown. Follow on twitter @loveliestladyyy, chronicling random thoughts on TV shows or cute animals and her crossing into the deep underbelly of food, fashion and craft beer.

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