Just Say It

Published: March 31st 2012
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I took salsa lessons with my host brother today. He really wants to learn how to dance. I went because I love dancing of any sort and the first lesson es gratis (free). Dancing really is a universal language because at times I didn't know what my dance partners were saying but it didn't even matter. We'd move in sync anyhow.

I learned a valuable cultural lesson today: sometimes it feels good to snap. It needed to happen and afterwards I felt super refreshed. Many people assume that becoming more culturally tolerant means not saying anything when things bother you. Just chalk it up to a cultural difference and get over it. To a certain extent I thought the same thing. The past few times I've gone out with my host brother or he's gone out with me and my friends, I noticed that he tends to make group decisions without consulting the group. Sometimes we'll be somewhere and he'll want to go for a walk to show me some places since he's a tour guide...without asking me if I want to go. Last week when we went out dancing I invited him. Me and my friends had a set place that we were going to. When we got to the place, he says "better another place" and just starts walking in a different direction and expected us to follow! He tells me what we're about to do. I had been getting really peeved by that. It's times like these when your own culture becomes evident. I'm from the United States and I'm also a black woman. That means I'm doubly not used to any man telling me what I'm going to do--EVER! I'm used to people making suggestions when in a group. I'm used to being ASKED if I want to do something and not just expected to follow. It rubbed me the wrong way and every time he did it, I would get more and more annoyed on the inside. I didn't know if his actions were just Isaac or if it was a reflection of the culture. I had to consider both and I wanted to wait until I said something. I know Chile has a more sexist society, so I wondered if it is because I'm a woman. Maybe Isaac doesn't ask me my input because I'm a woman. It's been known to happen. Well, you know what? I decided I wasn't having that. Nope. Not having that! I made a choice. The next time it happened I would speak my mind. Sometimes you have to just say it.

When the salsa lesson ended it was late and we were in a sketchy looking part of town. As we were leaving Isaac told me he was going to take me to show me this house that was built by Italians. He blends in. He's Chilean. I, on the other hand, didn't feel comfortable traipsing through a sketchy looking area to see a random house since I'm already a gringa, tall, and stand out. I asked him how far it was and he said not far. I was going to suck it up until I realized that his not far is usually like 3 blocks. I told him I didn't want to go but he continued to walk in the direction of that house as if I hadn't said anything. That's when I let him have it! I told him that I don't like when he does that, tells me what we're going to do without asking. He didn't seem to get it and continued to walk in the direction of the Italian house. He said he wanted to show me the house really bad and tried to convince me of how cool it was. I told him it bothers me, that it's rude, and then I called him on the carpet about what he did last week at the discoteca with my friends. I told him he needs to ask people and that I'm not used to being TOLD what I'm going to do. Then he got it. He apologized and asked me why I hadn't told him sooner. I said I was telling him now and I wasn't sure if it was him or his culture. He said it was him.

I felt the weight lift off my shoulders and I actually started smiling! Probably looked a little bi-polar. Haha! It just felt so good! We walked towards the micro stop to go home and I knew a major bridge had been crossed. I can be culturally sensitive AND speak my mind at the same time. Things were perfectly fine afterwards. It's one thing to want to be culturally respectful and another thing to feel like you're being repeatedly disrespected. I've learned that when it concerns the latter, you have to speak up for yourself and come to an understanding. When people get offended repeatedly and stay closed mouthed, it just breeds resentment which is never the goal of a cultural experience. Lesson learned. I'm not holding my tongue anymore.


3rd June 2012

Yes, it is a cultural thing but...
First, let me say I enjoyed reading your blog. I just stumbled into it but then couldn't stop. I found very interesting what you say about your host brother and that "Don't ask, just follow" mentality. Something similar happened to me last time I was in Chile. Now, let me give you some background so you can understand... I was born in Chile but now live in the US for almost 30 yrs. so I carry with me a strange mixture of both, the country where I grew up and the country where I became an adult and is now "home". I don't go to Chile very often but one of those visits I met up with an old friend who I used to work with. I had not seen her in like 15 yrs... We're both married now and she has a grown child. Her and her husband were incredibly welcoming and kind that first time. Then they invited me (well, splitting the expenses) to go to Argentina (Mendoza) with them, and that's when the trouble started... Same thing that your host brother did... but this time it was HER! She would just dictate where we'd go or would just start walking and expect me to follow. It was us three plus another female friend of theirs. That friend followed without question but it grated on me to be told what to do. I'm used to -even w/my husband- to ask if someone wants to go where I want to go AND be asked same. At first, same as you, I didn't say anything because I took it as their desire to show me around and I didn't want to be rude, but after standing around for LONG time waiting for her to try on shoes I had no interest on, I decided it was enough! I politely said I'd be going across the street to look at some stores, could we meet down at the corner in a few? OMG... the looke she gave me...!! They went on ahead but something had shifted and later on silences were longer and it was uncomfortable but no one said anything. The next day, the silent treatment continued so I went for it and spoke up. I told them what was bothering me, that I was not used to following people without being asked if I wanted to, that I was old enough now to make my own desitions and while I appreciated their good intentions, I felt the problem was an issue of "different life styles/culture" She got very upset and I felt like they (her husband and friend) kind of ganged up on me. She said I had changed and things were not done like that in Chile... that where one went, all followed. I said my problem with that was that the "one" was her and why did I have to follow her in particular... at what moment was she elected leader of the pack? To end the story, things didn't end well. We wrapped up our trip, went home -me back to my parent's house in another town- eventually left Chile and back to my own home in NC and I never saw her again. She has written to me a few times, but never touched the subject. She just writes polite, short notes saying she's my friend and loves me and blah, blah, blah. I reply same way... but I KNOW in my heart that my independant style is not well received in Chile -by men or women alike- because they see me as a guest in THEIR country so they "know better" what is good for me. In other words, it comes from a good place but still rubs me the wrong way and I'm not willing to change my ways to make them feel better so now I speak up at the first sign of "attempt at dominance" I encounter there... ha haa haa! If you wait, you're in for some very uncomfortable times...
4th June 2012

Oh my goodness that is crazy! I was literally leaning into my computer while reading your comment. I never considered that that could apply for Chilean women too! My mouth dropped open. I was expecting you to say that her husband turned into a boss master. What an awkward trip that must have been! It's astounding how similar both of our experiences are with that. It's good that you stood up for yourself and spoke your mind about the situation. We independent ones have to make a statement!

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