We have BAD manners (Americans, that is)   10 comments

In comparison to Salvadorans, Americans have bad manners.  I’m not talking about the kind of manners you were forced to learn as a child, like table manners, sitting up straight, or more ‘structured’ kind of etiquette.

I’m talking about social niceties, or “treating people right” kind of manners.  There are things most Salvadorans simply do naturally and without thinking that have become less commonplace in American society.

1. Greeting people on the street.  Almost always, when walking past someone you will hear a Buenos Dias, or Buenas Tardes, or often “Adios” which is a polite way of greeting someone here who is a complete stranger when passing them.

2. Buen Provecho.  This means “good appetite”, and is said to a person eating by someone who sees them, usually when they enter or leave the room of the ‘eater’.  I noticed it at work when people walked up to or past the table, but I ALSO experienced complete strangers in restaurants greeting us with a “Buen Provecho.”   How nice!

3. When starting a business or other conversation where you must discuss getting something done, you must always “Add the Flowers “.  A colleague of mine and I were discussing this one day, that when starting a conversation, you must say hello, how are you, maybe ask about the family or a small question or comment that has nothing to do with the business at hand before getting into the ACTUAL reason why you are conversing.  Americans tend to be direct, and at times blunt.  So if you call a Salvadoran on the phone or start a conversation and go immediately into “business” it’s like throwing cold water over their head.  You must do the flower dance first, and then get into the serious stuff.

4.  Expressing Anger will almost always backfire on you.  Americans are accustomed to public displays of anger, even in the workplace.  It may be just an irritable comment but can easily elevate to a raised voice with insulting commentary or graduate to all-out yelling.  I rarely see this here.  Salvadorans tend to show their “nice face” in public and get taken aback when someone blows up publicly.   I’m sure there are exceptions, depending on personalities, but for the most part, it’s best to keep a lid on it and remember that yelling or becoming angry tends to startle people from El Salvador, and is not as easily forgiven as back home.

5.   There is always an extra plate of food.  If someone comes to a Salvadoran home unexpectedly and near mealtime, a plate of food is handed to them.  I don’t know how some poor people suddenly have extra food, but they may just make everyone’s plate a bit smaller to accommodate the extra person.

6.   On that note, receiving unexpected visitors is taken well here.  This may come from the fact that many Salvadorans have larger families or live with extended family, so they are accustomed to having more people around, and in their “personal space.”   So it’s not such a big deal when someone drops by without notice.  We were talking about this the other day at the lunch table at work.  A woman was mentioning the reaction her Canadian Sister-in law had when suddenly a bunch of family members who were visiting from our of town stopped by, and oops, it was almost dinner.   Her reaction, which she expressed out loud was, “I cant feed everyone here!”  A Salvadoran, on the other hand, might be upset, but would probably NEVER express it, and start rummaging through the kitchen or run out to get something quick to serve her new guests.

7.  Kids are welcome and loved, basically EVERYWHERE.   This isn’t necessarily manners, but more of a cultural custom.    I’ve had time to observe how people from El Salvador behave with children.  Here’s something innovative for us to learn:

THEY INTERACT WITH THEM!

In America, when visiting someone’s home or bumping into a couple with children on the street, you often see the adults talking the kids sort of melting into the background, or the parent doing most of the interacting with the children.  I too, have been guilty of talking with just adults myself.

I remember this ‘melt into the background’ phenomenon when visiting a friend in the states last November.   There was a group of us, and a small toddler all in the same room.  While most of the adults talked, the little boy play and his mother checked in on him, but for the most part, he was kind of playing along by himself with some toys and things near him, while we talked amongst ourselves.  In El Salvador, everyone in the group would be taking turns playing with him, or picking him up, etc.

Here, even when a complete stranger has just met a child, they talk directly with them, engaging them with questions about their family or what they like, and overall,  having a much more participatory interaction.  Kids are very much a PART of life and the social settings here.

There are more differences and customs beyond these, but I’ll stop here for now and I invite commentary by readers to add more.

10 responses to “We have BAD manners (Americans, that is)

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  1. One can call it the Ugly American syndrome but, there’s a big “but”. I’ve traveled through most of Latin America and Asia and have seen Americans to be quite the opposite of “Ugly American”.

    Just as we have unrealistic expectations of different ethnic groups and cultures, they have their own unrealistic expectations from Americans. But one thing I saw very universal in all my travels is that the Green Monster called Jealousy is the fuel for most criticism against Americans. When someone has more than you, sometimes criticism is a blanket of comfort to make you forget about what you don’t have.

    I have heard and been the point of critique by El Salvadorans for not being flexible or having bad manners but I think that’s a point of assimilation and that takes a short time for most Americans. I laud Americans for being the fastest in assimilation and that’s what makes Americans very successful.

    I find that El Salvadorans and many latin american cultures completely resistant to assimilation; hence, I think we’re in the situation of saying, “Don’t throw rocks in a glass house”.

    I will list the bad manners of El Salvadorans in the eyes of an American:

    1. Americans expect you to be on time for meetings, dates, business appointments; El Salvadorans rarely show up on time to engagements.

    2. Almost all Americans do not utter racial epithets openly in public or coin nicknames associated with a person’s physical defects or features. El Salvadorans in public will often stretch their eyes to imitate “chinos” or refer in pejorative regarding black people. El Salvadorans will call you “gordo”, “chato”, “guero”, “cabezon”; referring to any physical characteristic that makes you stand out. Americans are reserved and find this very rude.

    3. Americans are the most generous people in the world and have given away money, food, medicine, educational facilities, and most of all…Americans have liberated people including El Salvadorans from disasters, wars and oppression. It is rude to Americans to criticize good samaritans.

    4. In the USA, Americans teach their own that when traveling abroad or living in a foreign country, do everything possible to learn the language and assimilate into the new country’s system; this is a social and economic lubricant that will keep the engine running for a long time. El Salvadorans are too proud and will not assimilate to countries they move to. Americans find this rude.

    …..In all, this all comes to one conclusion. No one is perfect. We can only hope the next person we offend doesn’t have a loaded gun and that we can bring peace to everyone with a smile, fat wallet and a bottle of ice cold beer.

    • Senor, your comments are very ignorant, it is not true that Salvadoreans do not assimilate a culture of a country. I have assimilated your culture i am very direct and selfish now than i am living in USA for many years. Second: you should know that Salvadorans are more American than you, who probably come from European descendents. It is Europeans who resist to assimilate new cultures. European American have kept their culture even after more than one hundred years in US Your are still very prejudice people. You have inherit racism to your newer generations for centuries. It is not true that El Salvador discriminates Blacks because we have no black people. I like blacks and i consider them the most sincere and sensible people, i like them as friends. Do not be hypocrite you white people have a mentality of colonization. If you are so open to change why your ancestor did not adopted the native American culture?, instead they imposed European culture to us. For American Europeans it is an insult when an immigrant like myself have better ideas than them i have experienced it at work even when they know i am right it hurts their pride to admit that i am more intelligent than them, Last you have a mindset of superiority that hinders you to see Latinos qualities. In your stupid mind all Latinos are dumb…

  2. Dear senor Don, you have a well-written comment/response, and a lot to say, as you often do, so here I give you your forum. Americans in El Salvador probably assimilate and have more flexibility than *some* of their Latino counterparts, but not all. I could list a number of complaints about hispanics, many of them Salvadorans, for throwing garbage on the sidewalks back home or other infractions. But I’m not focused on THEM right now, I’m focused on who we as Americans are while we are here, and pointing out some nice things that Salvadorans tend to do, which an American might consider when approaching them, or if they like, even adapting that behavior to use on their own. Take in and focus the good, discard the bad that wont work for you. I definitely agree on the prejudice thing, blacks are discriminated against irrationally here, and it has a long ugly history. A friend of mine told me that legally on the books blacks were not allowed into the country until as recent as 1983.. As for jokes about Asians, definitely the immature persuasion making those kind of gestures. When it comes to nicknames, I’m giong to defend them. Salvadorans will call someone “gordo” right to their face – but one thing I noticed is that it is both said and TAKEN in a lighter, more endearing way. Seriously. I can yell out to my heavy set brother in law, “hey, Gordo!” to call at him, and he won’t take offense to it. It’s not the same as calling him Fatso in English, and truly, in English, there is no word or way to call someone a little heavy set without offending them. Also, it’s usually not an offensive to call someone negrito or negrita, for being darker (though if you say it with a nasty tone it can be totally different).. There’s even a local candy maker whose label is called “La Negrita.” Not offensive, but the moment you get off the plane in the U.S. you better NOT say that or it will be taken the wrong way, as my Colombian friend told me. When he first came to the states a friend of his corrected him, when he said hola negrita to her on the train. She knew he meant no harm, but explained that its taken as a racist comment in the U.S. even if it’s not meant that way.

  3. As a survival skill for living in a foreign country I find it best to try and focus on the positive points. Every culture has its “quirks” that could be construed by others as being rude. It is learning to “roll with” these quirks and drop the “Americans are best” attitude that make for a successful foreign living experience. Juanito is a student here and I noticed that some of the things you list on your blog are actually taught in the classroom. I think that teaching kids to greet people as they pass you on the street should be universal. What a great post!

  4. I retired to Panama a couple of years ago but I enjoy reading blogs about other expats in other Central American countries and how they are adapting to living there. I found a couple of similarities between your post and things that happen down here. One of the things I especially like here is how people greet each other even total strangers. “Buenos Dias,” most often simply “Buenos,” is SO common. I don’t own a car here so I ride the buses everywhere. (And Panama has an incredibly efficient public transportation system.) When people get on the bus they will say “Buenos Dias” or “Tarde” as the case may be, to the bus in general and almost everyone responds in a like manner. It is almost impossible to walk more than a block, even in Panama City, without a total stranger saying “Buenos” to you. I like that. I like that a LOT.

    Here, too, food is always offered to visitors and it is the worst kind of social faux pas to demure.

    • Thanks for stopping by, and for sharing your experience. I have yet to visit Panama, but would like to, heard a lot of good things about it.

      • Hi, I loved reading your posts. I actually found your website by accident, but I enjoyed reading through every post. I originally googled “chufles in English” and your page came out on the results but I could not find that translation anywhere. I would appreciate your help in finding the right word in English. I am pregnant and unfortunately I liked some Salvadoran pages on Facebook and they’re always posting pictures of salvadoran foods etc. So, today I saw this picture of the chufles, and it did not only remind me about my childhood, but now I am also craving them and don’t know what they’re called in English. I don’t even know if I’ll be able to find them but at least with a name I can search them. Thank you so much for taking the time for reading my comment, have a great day!

      • Hi Veronica. No idea what they are called in English, it’s such an exotic food. But I did a search on chufles in google and had to laugh bc so many pics were from my blog were there – many with nothing to do with chufles but related foods. so funny!!

        I may have the answer for where to buy them. Go to this blog, and scroll to the end of the page, you will see chufles. It says ‘exportadora’ de el salvador, so you may be able to get them to send you some or tell yo where their products are sold in the U.S.

        http://torrefuertefoods.blogspot.com/

  5. Well I wanted to add my grain of salt to this conversation. First of all I am Guatemalan who has been living most of my life in the Midwest of United States. As a person from a small country I had to adapt to society and specially learn to relate with other immigrants. The story is quite interesting as immigrants we learn a lot not just from the country but so much about Southeast Asians, North Africans, Easter Europeans, and of course North Americans. Just like my story immigrants from small countries adapt better as there are less of our expatriates in here. We find North Americans with very bad manners weather they are rich or poor, but everyone has his own world. I have met North Americans who are very kind and above all polite. I happen to work in web development and this is where I have related more with them. In the workspace thank you is a must specially over emails. But get this, most of them don’t say good morning when they come to work. This was something I spoke with another Latino who is a software developer. To us is quite shocking, and the same goes with leaving the office. We could say this is a way to respect other people who are busy, still I don’t know why it hurt me to see them go away without saying a good bye.

    When it comes to latinos living in this country. I happen to feel disappointed many times how they carry themselves in public places like stores. I feel even embarrassed when parents don’t correct their kids from throwing clothes or toys in the floor. I don’t like how some don’t say can I have, they say give me either in English or Spanish. And yes, Central Americans we curse and I do it as well, but some don’t respect there are kids or women around. That’s when it gets pretty bad. When it comes to meet friends, many don’t announce they are a bit late or won’t make it. Just recently a colombian person did this to me for the second time.

    I find North Americans are very generous, and would go an extra mile to help others. Their problem sometimes is they don’t act like that unless they know about the need or suffering. For example, I believe they are generous and help. Just to make a correction here about El Salvador. The United States did the opposite of ceasing their civil war. In fact, they financed it as well as trained their army. When a citizen of this country realizes the price of war and what the country has done to others they are very sensitive and in those situations they become more welcoming and open to other nationalities. Well this is going away from manners but reflects their own nature.

    I notice in the US, when you live in a big city people are a bit colder than in small towns. You go to a store and from the beginning they say good morning. Maybe they have less tensions. My sister lives in a place far from the city. Just being there I noticed that most are white and are very friendly and greed me even if I come over to see my sister. The neighbor a polish old woman has come to see my sister and meet her new born baby. She even brought a gift to her. it is nice when I was at home and a white neighbor came to tell us one relative passed away and wanted to invite us to their funeral. I barely knew that person but to her relative I got to hug her like one of my relatives. Going back to my old job. I remember my grandfather passed away, my latino coworker was the only one who came to hug me. Everyone else just filled in a card for feeling sorry of my loss. Sincerely, I find Germans and other Scandinavians who don’t show much physical affection and maybe a good reason why their descendants in this place tend to be like them as well. The French, they kiss in subways, or anywhere they please.. funny.

    When it comes to my country. My grandfather used to say that people decades ago were more polite and carried better manners. I happened to hear the same from a North American who I met in Paris. But in the same way you get to see people to be very polite today. I swear go to a store in Guatemala. The first thing is “Buenos dias caballero, en que lo puedo ayudar?” “good morning gentleman, how may I help you?” Walk in the streets, I hadn’t been there in a long time. It was a bit shocking to see strangers say “buenos dias”, or “buenas noches” as they pass by. This is strange maybe, but the same happens in small towns here in the Midwest like Madison, Wisconsin.

    When I was in Japan, I learned to say “itadaki mas” for starting to eat. Or “Gochiso osama deshita” I head my japanese friend there say at restaurants. I found out it meant I enjoyed the meal. Well It was another good manner like in Central America for “Buen Provecho” at the end of the meal. And what do North Americans say when they serve a meal or walk by another person? “Bon Appetit”. So for the blogger realize North Americans don’t fail on table manners.

    I gotta say that we cannot relate to Salvadoreans having better manners than North Americans, or the other way around. It comes to the person’s own manners. For us Latinos when we have good manners we make an impact. It is sad when for a one time experience people make a prototype of people of another country. Yes there are some things which are very general. Reading from Rick Steves in a traveling book he warned “Americans” to lower their voice in public places as it is rude to be loud, as well as realize we smile too much and others find it puzzling. Anyways, lets learn from each other, and enjoy in what we are different.

    • Chelsea, thanks SO much for responding. I liked hearing about manners and customs from the reverse point of view – a Central American in America. I agree with you on the urban versus small town differences. City people are worried they might offend others by saying hi so they often clam up and say nothing. That was interesting about the hug your friend gave you when your grandfather passed away. I’m trying to remember if we hugged our coworker Soo when her Dad died. We definitely did the white office ‘card’ thing, for sure! I think you have had such an interesting experience and good exposure being in the midwest, but a software developer, and then even going to Japan. What awesome experiences!

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