Every culture has its own code of conduct, from the way you greet a stranger, to what you may think is funny. It’s hard to generalize the culture shock different people experience when transitioning into American culture, but I can certainly talk about Latino culture’s difficulties coming to this country. Many know the qualities the Latin American community: Loud, big families, strong characters, etc. A lot of things that are considered normal in south America do not fit in the American culture.
Being born and raised in Venezuela, South America, I can only talk about my own knowledge as part of the Latino community and my experience in this country. However, one would think that when you get to the airport they would give you a detailed guide about to the things you should know before moving to America. Sadly, they don’t. So, here are some advices about what you need to know before you come to the US.
Imagine the first day at my American college. Nerves were definitely there, combined with excitement, creating a whole in my stomach that would not go away. When I get to my first orientation and meet my new fellow students and staff, I greet them with a hug and a kiss in the cheek. For me, it sounds like something normal, but in that moment, the faces of my new acquaintances were confused, surprised or showed immediate rejection.
Allow me to tell you that in the United States there is simple line surrounding each person, and that line is called personal space. Americans highly value their personal space, especially when they talk to people they don’t know. For that reason, if some complete stranger hugs you and kisses you on the cheek without knowing you, it will definitely create a strong reaction. I mentioned this to a friend from Spain and she laughed. “If you think that’s bad, imagine my situation. In Spain, you give two kisses on the cheek.” Anyways, let’s just say until you don’t know the person well reduce awkward hugs and kisses to the minimum. That way you won’t make that person uncomfortable.
- Alcoholic Beverages
Usually, Hispanics love to drink, it’s part of the culture. However, lot of Latinos assume that only because in their countries the minimum age to drink alcohol is 18 years-old (and honestly laws about drinking are not really enforced there), that the rest of the world is the same. Well, in fact, they are sort of right. According to ProCon.org, in 115 countries the legal drinking age is at 18 or 19. Unfortunately, the United States is not included in those countries.
For instance, a Mexican friend of mine went to a BBQ with his host family at the house of some work friends of the family. My friend was 17 and he brought a tequila bottle that he had brought from Mexico and offer shots of it to everyone at the party, even the kids from his age. Let’s just say he almost got kicked out of the BBQ. In this country, being less than 21-years-old, you cannot let the world know that you drink alcohol from a young age because 1) You can definitely get in trouble with the law, and 2) A lot of Americans are loyal to their laws and will think of it as outrageous, even though for us is normal.
When you are an international and you are just starting to learn English, it’s hard to understand a lot of phrases and American slangs because you still have pretty basic knowledge of the language. For latinos, everything is translated literally. When an American says “it’s lit”, the less we think is that it means “it’s cool”. No, we thing something is on fire and we are in danger. There is a lot of urban phrases that state something but mean something different. For future reference, if you are in this situation, here is a short list of American slangs their meanings, for the full list go to “40 American Slang Words and Phrases you need to know“:
- Bail — Intransitive verb for leaving abruptly.
- Feeling blue; have the blues — A feeling of depression or sadness.
- A buck — Slang term for a the American dollar.
- By the skin of (my/your/his/her) teeth — just barely.
- Creep (n.) — An unpleasantly weird/strange person.
- Couch Potato — A lazy person who spends the bulk of their time engaged in things that can be done while sitting on a couch.
- Cram — To study feverishly before an exam typically done after neglecting to study consistently.
- Crash — To abruptly fall asleep, or to show up without invitation.
- Down to earth — And adjective for practicality and lack of pretense.
- Drive up the wall — To irritate.
- For Real — A proclamation of honesty.
This may seem like some weird things to know before moving to this country, but if you are a millennial and you are Latino, you will find them more helpful than you think. Remember, in order to understand other cultures, we have to experience them to the fullest. You don’t have to change your cultural manners or customs, but you do have to respect others’ cultural manners and find that balance to make the most of your international experience.