New in the country

I have been thinking a lot about how difficult is to arrive to a new place, with different language, culture, food etc. And it doesn’t matter how much we try to be ready for that cultural shock, there will always be unexpected situations.

Let’s talk about the interaction between the European culture, the Asian culture and the American culture. I won’t separate Latin American culture from USA+Canada, because the Mexican culture may be more similar to USA than to countries like Spain, even if both speak Spanish.

You know that I like to share all the knowledge that I have, hoping that it may be useful for somebody at some point. So I want to talk about the facts of every country that I know are shocking for foreigners when they arrive.

As an imaginary situation… if I had friends, or a friend who is about to travel to a certain country… What would I advise? What would be the warnings? What should they be prepared for?

Let’s start with a clear example.

If you are going to travel to an Asian country like Japan, China or Korea, when you enter a house, you have to take off your shoes and put them on a certain way. If you don’t know what to do, just remember the wise old saying “do what you see”. Just watch carefully what natives do and copy them. If you don’t know how to put your shoes, just see the way the natives do it.

Also in Canada and some places of USA people take off their shoes when entering a house. Not in Mexico and the rest of America. Usually it is a tradition in cold places. Mexico and other Latin American countries have a warm weather. Therefore the houses don’t have a carpet or heating to warm the rooms and much less the floors and bathrooms. There is no under floor heating in Mexico. Sometimes there is not even air conditioner. So when people enter a house, they don’t take off their shoes. We don’t even wear a kind of shoes that are easy to take off and I found it out in a very complicated way in Canada. (I used to wear some long boots with long complex shoelaces… very hard to take off while entering a house).

In Mexico, houses and hotels have floor tiles, which are cleaned every day with strong products and disinfectants. So, everything is clean, but just don’t take off your shoes when entering somebody else’s house. At your own house or hotel you can wear sandals. Usually we don’t take off our sandals in the shower or pools/beach.

There are differences on the countries that people usually don’t tell you about. One example is the toilet paper. In Asian countries, USA, Canada and some European countries, the used toilet paper is put on the toilet and goes away with the water. In Latin American countries, the paper is put on garbage cans. If you throw the paper on the toilet, it won’t go away. The paper will stuck on the toilet and will block the water and you will need to call the plumber.

Even in USA and Canada that the toilet paper goes in the toilet… Asians tend to break the toilets because they throw the paper on the toilet. And basically it is because Asians use an excessively huge amount of toilet paper. I don’t know why but they just do it and the toilet just can’t process all that paper. Why do they use more than 3 meters of toilet paper? I am not joking. 3 meters of toilet paper, 3 times!! Why? WHY? WHY!?!?! Why they don’t fold the paper properly? I mean, they just make a huge ball of paper and throw it to the toilet and obviously it gets stuck. It is embarrassing for them, because every time they arrive to a hotel they have to call the hotel management calling for a plumber. It is just too embarrassing.

Talking about arriving to Mexico… It is well known that Mexico is a dangerous place and foreigners who come from safer countries don’t know how to take care of themselves. In Mexico it is more common to use cash instead of credit card, so people have to carry with cash. Most foreigners put the cash on their wallets and the wallet on the pocket at the back of their pants, or in a backpack. In every not-so-safe country there are thieves specialized in stealing these wallets and opening backpacks without the owner noticing it. Really, people won’t notice. They may do things like this: A person comes walking fast towards you, then they pass hitting you and even look angry at you and in the moment that they got close to you, they may take off the wallet from your pants and you won’t notice it. In English-speaker countries it is known as “pickpocket”.

So basically, don’t leave your money on your pockets, wallets or backpacks. Don’t put important stuff on places easy to steal and always watch your belongings. Don’t leave your purse or backpacks on a chair and leave them, because when you are back you won’t find them. Also, don’t leave important things at the hotels; they are not safe zone either.

In Mexico there is no problem about walking on the streets while talking on the phone, but I’ve heard that there are other countries where thieves come and just take the phone off your hands and run away.

When people live in dangerous countries, they learn to survive and I am about to tell you something that shocks most of the foreigners.

You may know that women in Mexico usually have big boobs, and there is a space in the middle of boobs which, together with the bra, make something like a pocket. So when women want to hide something they put it on that space between the boobs.

According to the space available, girls hide money, their keys, the cellphone, a little purse, pencils, a little notebook, etc… Personally I think that money is too dirty. I don’t like to touch cash. Even if I have to, I wash my hands immediately. You don’t know where that money has been. So putting cash in that space is not recommendable… but at the end it turned out to be very comfortable to hide things there, like the cellphone. It is very common to see girls taking out the cellphone between their boobs, check it and put it back.

So please, foreign men, I know you will see it, I know it will be shocking, and I know it make foreigners laugh… but please, don’t look at it, don’t show a reaction and especially, don’t laugh at it. Remember that: Don’t laugh. Try to get a mental image or look for videos or something, try to get used to that idea so you don’t look surprised the first time you see it.

This is a very important fact. Don’t look at the girl’s boobies. In the whole America and most countries of Europe, it is better to look at people’s eyes. I know at some countries it is impolite to look at people’s eyes, but in America, looking at the other person’s eyes while they talk to you it means that you are paying attention to what they are saying and you are really interested in them. At the same time, looking at the person’s eyes, while you talk to them, means that you are honest. When a person is lying to you, they will look down and won’t look into your eyes (unless they are a real psychopath, who can lie looking directly to your eyes).

If you are talking to a girl and at some point you look down to her boobies she will get angry and she will point at her eyes saying with a loud voice to make sure everybody hears: “Hey you! Stop looking down. My eyes are up here!”. If you don’t want a public embarrassment, don’t look at the boobs or the woman’s body with a pervert face. Girls will react violently for sure.

So if you want to know how to behave in front of a girl I will show you with a very clear example. Look at this video and imagine that the balloons are a girl. The upper balloon is her face and the other 2 balloons are her boobies. While facing a girl with big boobs, just do what the guy does:

Correct:

Wrong:

Also it is very shocking for foreigners that Mexican women freshen up their make up all the time, specially the lipstick… Let’s say that you are arriving to a party with a Mexican female friend… she will take off her lipstick between her boobs and retouch the make up before entering a house.

Also, while being in Mexico and most Latin American countries, people will always try to twist your words into something sexual, just for fun, to tease people, to make them feel embarrassed. Everything you said and people tells you, try to find the sexual side on it, so they don’t make fun of you.

They will make fun of you if you say anything related to bananas, chilli pepper, cucumbers or anything with a phallic shape.

Also Mexican men say that eggs resemble their testicles. They say “American men (from USA) call their testicles nuts, because they are that small, but we Mexicans are bigger, therefore we have eggs”.  Or even avocados (?). Don’t ask.

Mexican men don’t sit with their legs crossed, they say that they can’t do it, bcause they “squeeze their brains” (?). When they see a man crossing his legs, they say “He can do it because he has nothing between his legs”.

When Mexicans want to tease foreigners they say things like “Do you like eggs? Bananas? Or what size do you like chilli?”. When men are bragging between them, they may say things like: “I am a very big chilli”.

Also, try not to go to the convenience store and tell the merchant “Hey, do you have eggs?” or “Where are your eggs? I can’t find them” or “Are your eggs fresh?”. They will look at you weirdly.

Also, Mexicans don’t complain about being tired, because everything will turn into a sexual conversation just to bother each other.

If you are working at the office and you stretch your arms while saying “Oh I am so tired. My back/neck hurts”, your mates will laugh at you and say “Was a wild night last night? Hehe What did you do that you almost broke your neck?”.

Mexicans are like that. In the whole world the “Tiger Leap” may be related to martial arts, but in Mexico it is a sex position.

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At the same time, people from Latin America have weird ideas about other countries like the Asian countries. A few years ago there was a trend of this hairstyle

asian haristyle1

But people only see chopsticks so they go and buy the same chopsticks used to eat and put them on their hair. When people from America go to Japan, they want to feel and look Japanese, so they get that hairstyle.

asian haristyle2

It turned out to be very funny for Asians who know the difference between a hair accessory and chopsticks. It would be the same if Asians do this:

asian haristyle3

For some Americans it is very hard to understand the night life in countries like Korea and Japan. These countries are very safe to go out during the night (even for women to be alone!!) and also, due to the really long work hours, people work the whole day and then go out at night, and the next morning they are back to their jobs. We often ask “When do they sleep?”. It really looks like Asians sleep just a couple hours. At the same time Americans see very weird other countries, like Spain where people is used to take a nap during the afternoon, after eating. Every single day, people from all ages.

It gets confusing for us Americans who are not used to any of both situations:

-Korea is great to travel. Everything is open 24 hours a day and you find anything whenever you want.

-Yeah but it means that you will work all those hours every day.

-Spain is so frustrating, if you need something at 4 pm everything is closed because it is the “nap time”. Stores are closed, there are no more restaurants and people get cranky if they don’t get their nap time.

-Yeah but if you work there, you have that extra relaxing time.

I think that for people from countries with long daily work schedules is very shocking to live in countries with “limited work hours”. I can’t remember exactly which countries are those, but you can’t work more than 6 hours a day, to make sure people keeps a balance between working, resting and having free time. It sounds nice but at the same time, they put you a limit on how much money you can earn. It sounds nice and frustrating at the same time.

(I can’t find the information about which countries were those…. Finland? Denmark? Netherlands?)

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When I was on my “honeymoon” with Finland, one of the best surprises was to discover that every few blocks, on these buildings of apartments, they have a playground with a trunk full of toys. I don’t know who puts these toys there, but random children can come to the playground, they play with these toys and once they finish they put the toys back on the trunk and leave.

So there was a group of foreigners talking about it and I was so interested about it. I could almost imagine myself having children on such a beautiful country. There was a woman (Mom A) with a little child (4 years old), and another woman (Mom B) with 3 little children (about 4, 5 and 7 years old).

Me: It must be wonderful for you and your children to have a playground so close from your apartment.

Mom A: Oh yes, it is great. Apartments are quite small and children get bored very easily. So every afternoon, when older children come back from school, my son goes out and plays with them. As far as toys don’t belong to anybody there are not great fights for them. They learn to share, to take care and to keep the place clean. Sometimes children from other buildings come to play too, especially when there was heavy snow. If I am busy at home I just stay at the window and see them from the apartment. If I have time I take him to other playgrounds. We have visited a dozen of different playgrounds with different toys and children to play.

Mom B: What?!?! Do you leave your children alone? I don’t let them to play outside, especially if there is snow.  They get dirty and wet and they come into the house with the wet clothes. And you don’t know what kind of children are they. There may be little weird children. Sometimes other moms come to take care of the whole group and you don’t know if they may spoil your children… No, no, no. My children can’t go out to play with them. I don’t care about how many playgrounds are there, they know they can’t go to the playground. Of course they see the playground from the window and see other children playing, but they can play together in the living room.

Me: (it sounds so sad… and that’s a waste of playgrounds).

When you arrive to a very different country, of course you want to try out the local food. Just make sure what they are offering you. In Finland, Iceland and Norway, there is a very specific dish called “smalahove”. It is very famous, every restaurant offer it, especially in Helsinki, and you may want to try it. It is smoked goat head.

iceland food

Talking about food… there are countries proud of their food, so if you want them to love you, you just have to talk about their famous dishes and say how good they were. But the art of flattery is very delicate and can turn dangerous, so you have to be very careful.

The art of flattery is based on knowing what is important for a certain country and say nice things about it. It is like going to Brazil and saying “Oh I love soccer!”, or going to Mexico and saying “I love the pyramids”, or going to Korean and saying “I love Kpop” or going to Italia and saying “I love the food”.

People from Mexico are very proud of their food. People from Peru are very proud of their food. So there is an eternal war between both countries about which country has better food and which country invented every dish. Every time there is a Peruvian saying “We have this delicious dish” there will be a Mexican saying “We also have it in Mexico, but it is not one of the most famous dishes, it is just so common. Of course we made it first and then it was taken to Peru”. And the Peruvian will say “Well, you have a different version. Our version is more complex because we have better cooks and spices”.

Mexicans and Peruvians will end up fighting for the food soon or later. So if you go to Peru and say “You have the best food” they will love you. Just try not to do what Eric did:

Eric at a Mexican house: “Mexican food is the best. I don’t like Argentinian food because they cook with black olives and it is disgusting. Every time they talk about Argentinian food I say ewwwwww”

Eric at the Peruvian house: “I love Peruvian food. It is the best. It is better than the Mexican food.”

Eric at the Argentinian house: “Argentinian Food! Yay! Everything is so delicious! I love Argentinian food!”.

At the party:

Host: So, Eric, what is your favorite food?

Eric: O.O gulp!

Latin American countries do not live in the lovely brotherhood they try to fake in front of other countries. Actually there is hate and competitions between each other. There is a general idea that people from Argentina are too arrogant and “stuck-up”. So people from other countries don’t like Argentinian people. At the same time Argentineans don’t have a good relationship with people from Chile. Chile doesn’t have a good relationship with Peru and so on.

So if you go to Argentina you can say “Argentina is great!” and everything will be fine. But don’t say it in other country. You can go to Chile and say “Latin American food is great” but don’t say “Peruvian food is great”.

Also, countries from Central American and the Caribbean are very sensitive to the fact the people don’t know that they exist. There are too many small countries with a little population and sometimes people just say “Latin America is Mexico, Chile and Argentina”. And people from these countries think that foreigners look down on them. And even if you say a few countries but you forget others, they will feel bad.

Also Spanish always feel so left out when people talk about Spanish speaker countries and people say “Latin America” and Spanish are like “Hey, we speak Spanish too”.

Another fight between Spain and the rest of the Latin countries is that the language is very different. For us is hard to understand their Spanish pronunciation.

In Latin America the letters “S”, “Z”, and sometimes “C” sound the same. They just sound like and “s”. But in Spain every letter has a different sound. They say “You are pronouncing incorrectly. It is like having bad spelling even while talking”.

Also we say “B” and “V” with the same sound, like a labial “B”, but it is different in other languages.

Once I saw a child from Spain, who moved to Finland. He was complaining because he pronounces “S” and “Z” different, but he was learning Finnish and his teacher told him to say both letters with the same sound. It was so frustrating for him because he felt he was learning a broken language.

Spanish is one of the hardest languages to learn. It is hard even for natives. There are even special exercises to learn how to pronounce the “R” correctly.

There is also a problem with the “L” in Spanish and the “L” in English. It is not the same. I think the Korean “L” is the same as the English “L”, it is called “alveolar”, but it is different to the Spanish “L” which is more dental.

consonants-5-groups-diagram

So while learning English and trying to learn the Korean pronunciation, my “L” and “R” in Spanish are broken now. After practicing English or Korean I speak Spanish weirdly. It is very common when learning new languages.

Personally, when I was learning English I felt so shy to talk in English in front of people who speak perfect English. I was shy, I didn’t practice properly and I learned slower. But when I am with people who speak English as a second language, I feel comfortable to talk in English, and talk  more and practice more. I feel they are more understanding.

In Mexico we are not good at English or learning other languages, because everybody speaks Spanish. Even if you go to USA, most people speak Spanish. All our neighbor countries speak Spanish. So we don’t really need to learn other languages, but in countries like Spain, people easily speak 4 or 5 languages, because every country around them, speaks a different language. In Europe it is very easy to find people who speak good English. About 80% people in Finland can speak enough English to help a tourist (Especially in Helsinki).

Talking about Helsinki and those places, I like how clean and well organized is everything. I really like how Iceland looks like.

View from Hallgrimskirkja TowerreykavikIceland

It is a great place to see the northern lights and it is interesting to see those days without night in summer. Also these countries have the best ice creams.

While watching children eating ice cream.

Woman: You know what’s weird? Latin children are so messy. I remember every time I was buying ice cream for my children in Spain, they were running around with a half-melted ice-cream…. their clothes got so dirty and their faces… but Finnish children don’t do a mess with the ice cream. Why is that?

Me: Maybe Finnish ice cream is different.

Woman: Maybe it is because Spanish children eat Ice-cream at 40ºC of temperature while Finnish children eat it when the weather is -10ºC and the ice cream doesn’t melt in a minute…

Me: O.O ?

Woman: Oh yeah. Finnish children play on the snow without shoes, or even wear dresses in the snow! We need special clothes but they are used to the snow and cold.

And there is something else that I couldn’t understand about foreigners. This was also a conversation about Finland:

Woman: What did you like the most about Canada?

Me: I loved the fact that on summer the sunrise is very early and the sunset is at 10pm. I love these looong days. There were people who lived in other countries and moved back to Canada on these days to enjoy the long days. Once the winter comes, they go back to their countries. It’s a migration similar to birds that move during winter and then come back.

Woman: I know. In Finland is the same. There are even days without night, or just a few minutes of darkness. Of course there are also days without sun. These days are so hard to bear. We also move every 6 months.

Me: Oh really? That’s so nice.

Woman: No it’s not. It is so hard to get used to the weather.

Me: Oh I know. I moved back to Mexico in winter and Canada was really cold but once I was in Mexico I felt the weather so hot, even if we were in the middle of winter.

Woman: We live in Finland during winter. It is extremely cold, there is no sunlight and the snow is heavy, food and utilities get more expensive, the gas bills are terrible. Then on summer we move back to Central America and the weather is extremely hot. We are too used to the cold weather and America feels like the hell. It is horrible to live on both countries.

Me: And why don’t you do the opposite? Like spending the winter on America and the summer on Finland? Is there any reason that won’t let you do it that way?

Woman: No. There are no obstacles but… Hmmmm…. No thank you. I prefer it my way.

OK I won’t judge because once I was talking to somebody who lives in the desert:

Me: I live about an hour away from the beach.

Friend: Wow it is great. I am sure you go to the beach very often. You can even go every day!

Me: No, I don’t. Actually I haven’t seen the beach in months. I never go to the beach.

Friend: But why? The beach is so beautiful and you have it so close. It is a waste not to go to the beach every weekend.

Me: It is not so great…

Friend: You should go this weekend.

Me: Naaaah… I am lazy…. I’ll stay at home.

Friend: It is a waste! People spend lots of money traveling to the beach once a year and you can do it but don’t do it. I can’t understand that.

Basically I want to ssay that everybody makes mistakes that tun into funny stories to tell later.

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