A Cultural Lesson Learned the Hard Way

Carol Eiber, OFLA President 2011-2012, Stow-Munroe Falls HS, Retired

There’s so much to teach about cultures and their practices; we can’t cover everything, so how does one prioritize?  When I was working in Mexico recently one situation reminded of the importance of teaching the context with culture.  In this case it involved me gusta (I like [something]).  After this misunderstanding I believe this lesson should be high on the list of priorities.

Our mission group consisted of some young adults and some not-so-young adults.  A few of them spoke some Spanish and were fairly willing to make the effort to make conversation with the families with whom we built houses.   Even so, as a teacher of Spanish, they regarded me as the expert and the “go-to” person in the group.

My young friend Ahren meant to compliment the sister of the family, Venus, on her earrings, so she said, “Me gustan los arêtes.”  The young woman immediately took them off and handed them to Ahren who was aghast and tried to refuse them.  Of course that was not possible; Venus would not take them back.  Ahren was most confused and came running over to me and explained what had just happened, that she just couldn’t take the earrings from this young woman of modest means.  I explained the custom that Venus felt obligated to give her the earrings since she, Ahren, had expressed liking them.  Ahren decided that she would replace them with a new set of earrings.  Later Ahren shopped and found a cute pair and presented them to Venus on our last day there.  She prepared a few sentences in Spanish to explain that she wanted to give her a gift of new earrings.  The return gesture brought a smile to Venus’ face and Ahren felt relieved at her attempt to correct the cultural misunderstanding.

It was a lesson learned through experience, and I’m sure Ahren won’t make that mistake again.  It’s another example of how intertwined culture, language and real world experiences truly are.


This entry was posted in OFLA News: Association, Vol. 52, No. 3 - Spring 2014. Bookmark the permalink.

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