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.