Monday, July 1, 2013
Just a few days ago, a friend and I were talking about some of the nuances about living in Europe. She is Italian and was telling me about her expat life, having lived 3 years in Germany and now a couple in Luxembourg. Even though driving from Italy to Luxembourg or even Germany can take just a matter of hours (I compare it to driving from Dallas to Corpus - seriously, takes about the same number of hours by car), it really is amazing how different the cultures between countries can be. Some are quite stereotypical - French can be serious and sometimes quite negative (think, Debbie Downer), Germans can be rigid, Luxembourgers can be aloof or standoffish, and Italians - well, they are just down right... passionate! We were actually trying to pin point what it was that makes Italians, Greeks, Mexicans, etc. such passionate and "touchy" people! My husband and I both have Mexican fathers and English/Irish/Scottish mothers, which makes an interesting mix when you think about it. British are mostly formal in their mannerisms, so PDA is not exactly a norm for them. Mexicans, on the other hand, can be very "touchy" folks, often giving strangers hugs or providing comfort or attention by touching an arm or patting the top of a child's head. So, though I wouldn't necessarily describe myself as a "touchy" type of person, I guess I am a bit more on the affectionate end of the spectrum, especially in Luxembourg. My friend and I chalked it up to the fact that affectionate countries all have one thing in common... we are all from the "South"!
Maybe it's the hot weather, but no matter where you go, it seems that if you reside somewhere near the equator, you tend to be a bit more on the affectionate side. Again, thrown into a country with such a large mix of cultures, this characteristic becomes that much more apparent when you attend a party or social function. You just are never quite sure how to greet friends, acquaintances, and new-comers! That being said, the bigger challenge is the welcome "kiss". One of the first things folks will tell you when you move to Lux is that the customary welcome with friends involves 3 alternating kisses on the cheek. This is an important little tidbit of information, because, though we generally know that Europeans welcome one another through this customary kissing practice, it does vary from country to country. There is still the challenge of which cheek to start with, but at least you know not to stop at the traditionally French version of just one kiss on each cheek! The funnier aspect of this custom is that it can be quite a lengthy process just getting in the door given the amount of expected kissing! I sometimes feel like a pigeon, pecking my way through the crowd, but I have to admit... I like this endearing tradition! In Texas, it seems customary for women to greet each other with the quick hug and perhaps the air kiss if you know each other well, while the men do the combo handshake - shoulder slap thing. Still affectionate by most standards. Consider this - just try to work your way through this social challenge when you attend a party that also has folks from New York or Boston! Well, I am often confronted with social encounters that not only include folks from the North East, but also Germany and the U.K. - an interesting dynamic given their more formal introductions that may or may not include a simple handshake. Generally, I opt for just a hello and a simple nod, since I am done trying to decipher expectations in those situations!