Tuesday, October 18, 2011

The buck stops...well now, where did it get to?

We had an apartment warming party the other night and our friends' 4-year-old, who is now functionally fluent, dropped a glass that broke on the wood floor. Teddy related later this thought that flashed in his mind: "I wonder if she'll blame the glass." And she said, "It fell by itself." Now this is not a story on clairvoyance. It is a ponderance on the Spanish language and my continual psych couch analysis of the Ecuadorian culture.

Teddy's full thought was driven by the fact that this little girl is a gringa, but she now speaks Spanish. And in Spanish, Teddy noted, you often don't do something to things, the things do the stuff themselves, to you. Confused? Let me 'splain. In Spanish you don't say, "I forgot my keys." You say, "The keys forgot themselves to me."

Now if you've read this blog you'll know that I get frustrated with some cultural ways here, but I admit the frustration is my problem of not understanding, not that of the culture. And I further have the old psychologist in me trying to figure out why. Why don't you do what you say? Why don't you arrive when you say you will? Why don't you take responsibility (it's always someone else's fault).

And I wonder if that last question--personal responsibility--isn't explained in part by this little peculiarity of the language. Language is, after all, both a reflection of a culture (or at least its history) and an influence upon it. Could this difference that I have trouble understanding between the Ecuadorian culture and my own European-influenced culture be related to the way they express their relationship to things and the world?

It begs the question, do all, or a large majority, of hispanic cultures have less of a sense of personal responsibility than many European cultures? I don't know, and I'd love to hear someone's perspective who does have much more broad experience with latin cultures. (Spain is of course the home of the language and is itself European, so we're already on shaky conjectural ground.)

And before you get persnickety about my accusing a whole culture of lacking personal responsibility, I have another potential perspective, or facet, of the same phenomenon. While relating to our friend Anna the above story, she posited that perhaps this language approach also reflects (or causes?) the much less individualistic nature of latin society. That is, things happen; glasses fall from hands, keys get forgotten, people make mista...no wait, mistakes happen to people. So let's just sweep up the glass, maybe think about how we might all prevent glasses from falling from us in the future, and get on with the party.

So my initial perspective of the culture, that it's always someone else's fault, could be actually the opposite; it's not really anyone's fault that a guy was sick so he got up late so he couldn't get my secretary to work on time so she couldn't get the paperwork done so I could get here on time with it. It's not someone else's fault, stuff just happens.

Now the ethnocentrist in my head is still groaning and wishing, "would someone just take responsibility?" But I am at least closer to an appreciation of an "eh...whatever" cultural demeanor. They aren't so stressed about it all. Whaddya gonna do? Plenty, says Mr. Ethnocentrist (all the voices in my head have names). Of course there's plenty, but for the yen side of our way, I am at least beginning to see the yan of our way, and conversely the yan and yen of their way.

Next up...
Matt may have figured out why no one here ever plans past the afternoon of the day they wake up, and why that's...OK.

1 comment:

  1. Have you ever seen adds for blood pressure medications for Hispanics? They have a low rate of high blood pressure, and heart attacks, but you can argue that they also have a high-risk diet. So, maybe the Latin attitude, much like the southern European attitude lends itself to a less stressful life, and thus a happier and longer one. Just a thought.