Monday, June 25, 2012
I just came back from a two-week trip to Spain and as usually when travelling, that’s when the cultural differences hit you in the face. Everything that has become normal after living in Honduras for fifteen years becomes exotic again, but also strangely familiar to come back to. I’ve been thinking long and hard about what in my opinion are the biggest cultural differences, and here is my top 3:
1. Toilet paper disposal
In Honduras we don’t flush toilet paper, but throw it in a waste basket, so the pipes won’t get clogged. For some reason the system wasn’t build to support the disposal of toilet paper. This is not a myth nor a joke, as anyone can tell you who has had a bunged up toilet. Thing is, you get used to it. Up to such an extent that once elsewhere, you keep looking for the wastebasket. And just when you get used to the flushing, it’s time to go back and getting used all over again NOT to throw the paper in the toilet.
If you meet someone new in Honduras in a more or less formal situation, you shake hands. On less formal occasions (or with people from the big cities) you press your right cheek against theirs, while making a kissing sound with your lips. Depending on whether you know and/or like the person, this gesture is completed by fake smile or a brief hug with your right hand on the other person back. But all in all, we’re not very touchy-touchy here.
Now, then in Spain! Your great everybody (but the mailman, I guess) with a kiss on each cheek. And there’s also a lot of Spanish versions of “sweetie”, “my love” “my dear” and “cutie pie” that we’re not used to here in the Honduran country side. Very different indeed, and even a bit intimidating!}
3. The language
If you think that in Honduras and Spain we speak the same language you’re wrong, because we don’t. In Honduras we speak Spanish. In Spain they speak Castellano. And the differences go way beyond vocabulary. La gorra in Honduras is el gorro in Spain. “Coger” means to take, in all its translations, but not “to fuck”, as we tend to interpret it on this side of the pond. There are a lot of words anyway that are very normal in Spain but quite spicy in Latin America. So communication is sometimes slightly difficult, but more often very funny.
I love those small differences between one place and the other. They make every place unique and special, even if they make you feel slightly uncomfortable. The world wouldn’t be the same without them. Although… maybe the world could benefit from a universal system for toilet paper disposal???