I went to a going away party for a long time colleague last night, and ran into a young man I had worked with on art installations at Chicago’s airports more than 10 years ago. I was happy to see that his business was still thriving (I was possibly even patronizing, since I am older and he had to be in his early 20’s when he opened it) and was delighted to reconnect. So in my enthusiasm (think of a 5-year-old excited to see his/her best friend), between hello and goodbye I must have hugged him at least 6 times.
As I was driving home, however, I started thinking. “Oh, goodness, what if he thought I was hitting on him?” Then I thought “was it just him, or was there anyone else that I was a little ‘forward’ with?” I thought it through, and there was one person with whom, consistently when we spoke throughout the evening, I had stood very close, we had touched each other’s shoulders while talking, we had hugged and kissed hello, hugged goodbyes both inside the restaurant and outside on the street.
It was Gabriella…my friend who is Latina.
Ahhh, I laughed. It’s cultural! For me, married to a Brazilian and integrated into Brazilian culture for over 20 years, this common and abundant affection among friends is just that…warm friendship. Kissing hello in Brazil can involve anywhere from one to three kisses. Heck, in Paris during one visit, friends greeted each other with FOUR kisses, right, left, right left. I thought once everyone had kissed everyone hello, it was almost time to start goodbye kisses, just to have enough time for so much kissing!
There’s the phrase “When in Rome, do as the Romans*,” but, what happens when you’re not in Rome, you’re not even Roman, and you drop a custom from another culture into your own?
Hmmm, maybe that’s why the old timers at synagogue are always so happy to see me…
Do you have any habits that are acceptable in one instance, but might be misconstrued in another? Do you censor yourself? Explain? Let it be?
*Partially inspired by this When in Rome post from GoriGirl–answer for her…sometimes!
Photo credit Thomas Hawk.
I think many basic customs are easy to censor – if you know the difference between your own culture and the one you’re operating in. How you eat, how you greet other people, give gifts etc – some of these differ wildly by culture. If you know what the differences are in these sort of things, then I think it’s only polite to make the attempt to be sensitive to others’ feelings and interact with them in a way that makes them most comfortable. With all the caveats I wrote about in my blog post. 😉
I believe in “inter-racial” kissing … even in public. My wife and I are an “inter-racial” couple and have been married almost 35 yrs. and live in “The South” (of the USA). She’s like a sweet brown mocha and I’m like … well, something “old and sour,” but we get along with each other quite well and, since we believe in “The Good Book,” we believe we have the possibility of spending forever together … and actually look forward to that with hope. We’ve really had some interesting experiences. I used to think “racism” was a “white man’s problem,” but … not anymore. It can be so pervasive and insidious that we don’t even see it in ourselves at times. Besides, there are a lot of other types of “prejudice,” besides just on the basis of “race.” We probably all prejudge at times, no matter how open and fair we try to be. If we ever feel the urge to go throwing stones at other’s faults, we ought to take a really good look at our own self first … and then put the rocks down and walk away.
One other thing I should have mentioned is that inter-racial marriages were “illegal” according to our state law, until about maybe 12-16 yrs. ago when it was put before the voter as a state constitutional amendment. It barely squeaked by at 51% vs. 49%, but it did pass. When we went before the county clerk in 1975, he didn’t say a single word to us, but you could tell he “disagreed” with what we were doing. Also, I will give him “credit” though, because he did give it to us. One other thing I had wondered about though was if he would have given it to us if I was a “Black” male and my wife was “White.” According to stats in a newspaper article about inter-racial marriages back several yrs. ago, it stated that there was only 1 inter-racial marriage performed in our county (the biggest city in our state) in 1975, none for yrs. before that, and then it’s gradually grown since then. I doubt those stats, because we know of at least one other couple that was married close to the same time we were.
I’m shocked to know that it was still illegal only so recently, but you also may recall a few weeks ago that a Louisiana judge denied a license to an interracial
couple (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2009/10/15/interracial-couple-denied_n_322784.html) although I believe he is facing losing his license for doing it.
I was (full disclosure!) sent a book to review “Your Intercultural Marriage” by Marla Alupoaicei. While I haven’t read the full thing (shame on me as an interculturalist for being a little resistant to digging into it as a Jew–the book is through a more Bible/Christian lens), there is a whole chapter on “A Biblical Look at Intercultural Marriage” which sites instances of interracial marriage in the Bible. And, since our laws are enforced “Under G-d” this should be a non-issue, right?
Thanks so much for visiting and sharing your perspective. What state are you in?