Hand it Over: Cultural Differences in Giving

Image source: Ian Sane

Image source: Ian Sane

After 15 years of marriage, Carlos and I have both compromised a lot. Some of the compromises are not on personal preferences, but on cultural differences – which tend to be a bit more complicated to sort out. Sometimes the belief in the rightness of our own way of doing something is so strong that our kids are forced to navigate two different responses to the same situation, depending on which parent they’re interacting with. (Such is the life of a bi-cultural child!)

An excellent example of cultural differences Carlos and I still haven’t quite hammered out yet – the art of giving something to somebody. This may be something you do on a daily basis and you don’t think twice about how you do it – but in our household, you must.

You see, in the United States, when giving something to someone in a casual environment, (at home with one’s family), it’s quite normal to toss the item to the person requesting said item. A roll of toilet paper, a towel, a pillow, an apple, the remote control, a chancla – all of these things are appropriate for tossing. Obviously one wouldn’t toss anything that could be easily damaged or spilled, but everything else is fair game.

In El Salvador, (at least according to Carlos), such casual tossing of items is disrespectful to the person receiving the item. I can understand in formal situations. I can understand not tossing something, perhaps, to a grandmother or a visiting guest – but to close family? At home? Something completely unbreakable? Carlos believes in absolutely no tossing whatsoever of anything to anyone at any time, and gets highly offended just seeing it happen, even when he’s not involved.

This leaves my children with an unspoken set of rules to follow:

1. Tossing to mom = OK
2. Tossing to dad = forbidden
3. Tossing to mom in front of dad = forbidden

When Carlos isn’t home and the boys and I are watching T.V., I might say, “Hey, could you toss me a pillow?” – One of the boys will then literally toss me a pillow. No big deal.

When Carlos is home and we’re all gathered in the living room to watch a movie, I might make the same request. (I’m always needing pillows for some reason.) The boys, knowing Carlos is right there, will get up and hand it to me. If the boys forget and toss the pillow to me, no matter how gently, Carlos will say, “Hey! Get up and hand it to her. You know I don’t like that.” And whichever son threw it to me will have to get up, take the pillow back, and hand it to me properly.

My only other encounter with “the art of giving” was in Tae Kwon Do classes. My masters (teachers) were Korean and in Korean culture it’s also rude to toss things – particularly to someone older than yourself. Not only that, but it’s considered disrespectful and insulting to hand things to someone, or receive things from someone, with only one hand. If you’re younger, (or lower ranking in some way, like if you’re giving something to a boss), you should be holding the item with two hands when you give it to them. If the item is very small, it’s permitted to hold it in your right hand while supporting the forearm with the left hand. (This also applies to handshakes!)

What have been your experiences in “the art of giving”? What cultural differences still cause problems in your bi-cultural household?

Halloween 1998

carlos_n_1sthalloween

Today is Spanish Friday so this post is in Spanish. If you participated in Spanish Friday on your own blog, leave your link in comments. Scroll down for English translation!

Este tiempo del año los días son pesados con nostalgia, no sé por qué. Tal vez es el cambio obvio de las estaciones – noches calurosas de verano que han cambiado a ser frillitas, el verde claro de las cosas vivas se han convertido en tonos suaves de anaranjado, amarillo y marrón – que me recuerdan de los cambios en mi vida durante los años que han pasado.

La foto arriba es de Carlos sosteniendo nuestro hijo primero en su primer Día de Halloween. Lo vestí como un dragón o dinosaurio, no recuerdo bien. Carlos se ve tan lindo en esta foto. Él tenía sólo 20 años y nosotros habíamos estado casados ​​por menos de un año. A veces no puedo creer como pasa de rapido el tiempo.

[ENGLISH TRANSLATION]

This time of year the days are heavy with nostalgia, I’m not sure why that is. Maybe it’s the obvious change of seasons, hot summer nights that have become chilly, the bright green of living things having turned mellow shades of orange, yellow and brown – which remind me of the changes in my life over the years.

That photo above is of Carlos holding our first born son on his first Halloween. I dressed him as a dragon or dinosaur, not sure exactly. Carlos looks so cute in this photo. He was only 20 years old and we’d been married less than a year at that point. Sometimes I can’t believe how quickly time passes.

Conversations at Casa López – Part 3

Here are the latest “bilingual moments” and funny conversations from Casa López!

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“Mira el niño bajo de la blanketa.”

- My 11 year old pointing out a kid hiding under a blanket

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Me: You’ve been eating so many apples lately.
Carlos: I love apples.
Me: I can tell.
Carlos: I’m like that guy you told me about, Johnny Apple Cider.
Me: Johnny Appleseed.
Carlos: I’m a different guy. I’m his cousin.

___

Me: What else do you want me to pack in your lunch?
Carlos: Tex Mex.
Me: Huh?
Carlos: Tex Mex.
Me: I… didn’t cook any Tex Mex?
Carlos: The one in that cabinet.
Me: Oooooh. CHEX MIX.

___

11 year old: Mommy, remember that girl in Kindergarten who could only speak Spanish?
Me: Yeah, I remember her. How is she?
11 year old: She speaks English really well now!
Me: Oh, really? That’s good.
11 year old: Yeah, she speaks well but she has an accent kind of like Daddy when he says ‘stop’, like ‘estop.’
Carlos: Hey.

___

Me: Go wash your hands in the sink but try not to make a mess.
11 year old: Can you please speak English? I don’t know what you’re saying.
Me: I was speaking English!
11 year old: Well then, that’s just weird.
___

Carlos: I thought you said the dog would calm down after the nudity.
{The kids bust out laughing}
Tracy: Um… neutering?
Carlos: Nudity?
Tracy: NEUTERING!
Carlos: NUDITY!
{me and the boys laughing}
Carlos: You said the dog would calm down after they fixed him.

___

Related Posts:

Conversations at Casa López
Conversations at Casa López – Part 2

The Day I Almost Lost Him

The place where Carlos almost lost his life.

The place where Carlos almost lost his life.

I didn’t know if I would write about this publicly but I think doing so will help me process everything, and that is something I’m struggling to do. Also, I think this story can teach at least two important lessons.

We woke Sunday morning before the boys. Carlos headed out to the driveway to work on the car and I headed to the kitchen to work on breakfast.

There wasn’t much of a plan that day. As we lay in bed with the sunlight streaming through the blinds I had mentioned that it might be a good day to go swim in the river, but had the day progressed normally, we probably would have stayed home. I had already done the grocery shopping the night before and planned several recipes I wanted to make and photograph to share here on my blog.

As I set to work in the kitchen I heard Carlos call my name from the driveway. I don’t know how I heard him and today I’m plagued with the thought of what could have happened if I hadn’t. Carlos often calls my name from outside and I often don’t hear him – but yesterday I did. Yesterday, the way he said my name, it was urgent, strange. My first thought was that he wanted to show me something, but I knew that couldn’t be right. Why was his voice like that? I’ve never heard his voice like that before.

If I could have flown to him, I would have. I ran so fast that my chanclas came off my feet and I abandoned them, running faster barefoot. Halfway to the car I knew what I would find but I didn’t want to believe it.

Carlos had jacked the car up and was working under it. He’s not sure if the jack simply failed, if he bumped it, or if the car rolled, but when the jack fell and the car fell on top of him, he somehow managed to get enough air in his lungs to call my name.

I crouched down. I thought I said, “Oh my God,” over and over but I realize now that was in my head. Carlos later reminded me that what I actually said, is “What happened, baby?” in a weak, strangled voice. Carlos responded, “Tracy, I can’t breathe.” I remember that he said that very clearly because that is when I began to tremble. Even today, twenty-four hours later, my hands feel weak and begin to shake when I think of how I tried to work the jack and I couldn’t. Even if the jack wasn’t jammed, I don’t know if I could have made it work. My hands were trembling so much that I couldn’t hold onto it.

As my hands fumbled, I began to scream like I’ve never screamed before. “Help! Help me!” … I was hoping one of the neighbors would come get the car off Carlos – I was failing. Carlos was dying and it was going to be my fault. I replay it in my mind – why I didn’t call 911 but that would have meant leaving Carlos’s side when he couldn’t breathe. I wanted the car off him, I didn’t want to abandon him for even a minute. The screams that came out of me sounded like another person. Carlos managed to tell me “Calm down,” and even reached a hand down to try unsuccessfully to turn the jack. I kept screaming over and over again.

Inside the house, our dog, Chico, began to panic. He scratched frantically at the door and barked in response to my screams. It was Chico who woke our sleeping sons. My older son came outside when he heard the screams. He looked about wide-eyed, “Mommy, what’s happening?” he said.

When I spoke, I stuttered. I couldn’t speak clearly. “The car fell on Daddy,” I said, “I can’t get the jack to work.”

My older son grabbed the jack but he couldn’t work it. “I can’t work the jack! I don’t know how!” … He began to panic, too, and I started to scream again as a big, black pick-up truck stopped in front of our house and a man I’ve never seen before, ran to us. He later told me that he lives down the street, that he heard my screams. He thought it was kids playing at first, but decided to check. I wonder today if he hadn’t heard my screams or if he had ignored them – what would have happened.

The man tried to lift the car, my son and I joined in. I still don’t understand how we couldn’t lift it even a little. My son’s head left a small dent in the side of the vehicle – that’s how hard he thrust himself against it as he lifted. We cut and scraped ourselves, our bodies are sore today – but the car didn’t budge. Assured that my son and the man were actively trying to save Carlos, that Carlos wouldn’t be alone, I ran to the house, dialed 911, and brought the phone back with me outside.

The dispatcher told us not to attempt to move the car. I had worked very briefly as a dispatcher-in-training myself many years ago, and knew the dispatcher knew better than I did – but the man somehow managed to get the jack working and Carlos’s voice and breathing were weakening. I told the dispatcher we were going to jack the car up, that we had to, that my husband had a thick chest and the car was low to the ground, that he couldn’t breathe. The dispatcher told me again that she was advising me against moving the car in any way and that the ambulance and fire truck would be there soon.

The man worked the jack and the car lifted enough to take the pressure off Carlos’s chest. Fearing that the jack might fail again if he jacked it up enough for Carlos to get out, the man said we better just stop there. A minute later, my younger son flagged down the ambulance and fire truck. Within a few more minutes the first responders had used a tool I don’t know the name of to lift the car the rest of the way.

At one point the car started to slip again because a rock at the rear tire wasn’t doing a good enough job to keep it immobile. Carlos didn’t wait for the EMTs to slide him onto the board while he was under the car – he says he doesn’t know how he did it but he didn’t want to be under there anymore and he pulled himself out. An EMT grabbed his legs and pulled him the rest of the way onto the board and put a neck brace on him.

Carlos was airlifted to a hospital with a trauma center. I gave the boys some instructions, grabbed a few things and drove to the hospital. Because it wasn’t our local hospital, I got a little lost and that is when I finally started to cry actual tears. I had barely held it together until that moment but it’s usually Carlos who drives – he’s so good with directions, and I often get lost, and he wasn’t there to help me and I couldn’t find my way to him. When I finally arrived at the hospital, he was in for CAT scans and x-rays to check for internal injuries. The nurse reassured me that he was still conscious and talking, soon I was able to see him.

When I came into the room, Carlos was hooked up to all kinds of things. He still had the neck brace on, his shirt had been cut away and he wore a hospital gown. He had tubes in his nose for oxygen, IVs taped to his arms and hand, little electrode-looking things stuck all over his chest, a blood pressure cuff on his bicep, and a heartbeat monitor on his finger.

In the end, the test results revealed that not a single bone had been broken and there was no serious internal injury. Carlos was discharged within hours and even requested an ice cream cone on the way home. He will be very sore and is not working for at least a few days, but the doctor said he is either “very lucky or very strong.”

The only things I’m certain of today – I love Carlos with all my heart and I’m incredibly thankful that I’m not facing the rest of my life without him.

The two lessons for everyone:

#1. Do not ever use a car jack to raise a car up to work under it. That is not what they’re meant for. People often do this and end up dead or severely injured. Either go to the mechanic or find out the proper way to work under your car and do not take shortcuts. It’s not worth the risk you’re taking.

#2. It sounds cliche, but show your love for your family every day and in all your words and actions. You don’t know when your last moment together will be.

Carlos had to wear the hospital gown because his shirt got cut off him, but he was alive and home, and that was all that mattered.

Carlos had to wear the hospital gown because his shirt got cut off him, but he was alive and home, and that’s all that matters.

Conversations at Casa López – Part 2

It’s that time again. As I mentioned in the first edition of “Conversations at Casa López” – there is usually at least one funny conversation in our bilingual household each day. You know how when older people get mixed up and say, “Sorry, I’m having a senior moment”? Well, I call these “bilingual moments” and I’ve been writing them down the past few months to share with you. Here we go!

Me: Dame un cucharo por favor.
Carlos: {laughing} What?
Me: The knife, give me the knife.
Carlos: Cuchillo.
Me: I swear I knew that.

_

[Talking about a friend he's unhappy with.]

Carlos: He fell off the motorcycle.
Me: What motorcycle? What?
Carlos: Don’t you say that in English?
Me: What are you talking about?
Carlos: In El Salvador, when you don’t like a person anymore, you say se cayó de la moto.

_

Carlos: Can you put lotion in my back?
Me: In it?
Carlos: Yes.
Me: Are you SURE? You want me to put lotion IN your back?
Carlos: On.

_

11 year old: Buenos días, mamá. [Kisses my forehead while I'm still in bed]
Me: [smiling] Eres un niño dulce.
11 year old: I’m a candy?

_

[Giving a spelling test to our 11 year old.]

Carlos: Damness.
11 year old: Whaaat??
Carlos: DAMNESS.
11 year old: Daddy, let me see that, [Pulls book toward himself] … That says DAMPNESS.
Carlos: DAMNESS… You know what I mean!
11 year old: No Daddy, I actually didn’t. I thought you were saying a bad word.

_

[Carlos yelling at our 11 year old who was rough housing with the dog.]

Carlos: Don’t let the dog bite you like that. One day he’s going to bite your ear off and you’ll look like that artist… What’s his name?
Me: Van Gogh.
Carlos: Yeah, you’ll look like Vengo.

_

[At a Salvadoran restaurant. The waitress had been speaking Spanish to us the entire time but when she came to check on us during our meal, she accidentally spoke in English and caught herself.]

Waitress: How is every— oh! [pauses, bows head and closes her eyes]
11 year old: [whispering] Did she fall asleep?
Me: No, she’s just trying to switch her brain back to Spanish. The gears get stuck sometimes.

_

What has been your funniest bilingual moment lately?

The Random Aventuras of Tracy & Carlos

Today is Spanish Friday so this post is in Spanish. If you participated in Spanish Friday on your own blog, leave your link in comments. English translation in italics!

title

Este video no es completamente en español y la verdad es que uno tiene que ser bilingüe por entender todo – pero así es nuestra vida. Lo siento a los que no entienden todo pero ojalá todos disfrutan de alguna manera.


This video is not completely in Spanish and the truth is that you have to be bilingual to understand everything – but that’s how we live. Apologies in advance to those that don’t understand everything but hopefully everyone enjoys it in some way.

Amor Salvadoreño – un poema

Today is Spanish Friday so this post is in Spanish. If you participated in Spanish Friday on your own blog, leave your link in comments. Scroll down for English translation!

Image adapted from photo by jicriado

Image adapted from photo by jicriado

Por el Día de Amor y la Amistad escribí unos poemas para Carlos. Aquí hay uno de ellos.

Amor Salvadoreño – un poema

¿Quieres que te diga cómo es nuestro amor?
Te puedo decir que nuestro amor es
más alto que el volcán de San Salvador
más profundo que el Lago de Ilogpango
más caliente que los días de mayo, y
más largo que el Río Lempa.

Nuestro amor es
más sabroso que una pupusa
más refrescante que una Coca-cola en bolsa
más chulo que La Chulona, y
más comodo que una hamaca amarrada entre dos palmas en la playa.

Nuestro amor es
más emocionante que los cuetes en Nochebuena
más íntimo que la gente apretada en el ultimo bus de San Salvador a Mejicanos
más divertido que las ruedas durante las Fiestas Agostinas, y
más apasionado que palabras entre Areneros y FMLNistas.

Nuestro amor es
más joven de corazón que un cipote jugando capirucho
más coqueto que novios en una pasarela
más rico que los que compran en La Gran Vía, y
más feliz que la mara cuando La Selecta mete un gol.

Nuestro amor es
más rítmico que una cumbia
más fuerte que los Vientos de Octubre
más interesante que el chisme de las vecinas, y
más salvaje que un chucho aguacatero.

¿Quieres que te diga cómo es nuestro amor?
Te puedo decir que nuestro amor es
más grande que nuestro querido El Salvador.

[ENGLISH TRANSLATION]

I wrote a few poems for Carlos for Valentine’s Day – here is one of them. [This poem has some untranslatable parts and loses something in English, but I didn't want to leave my English-speaking friends out so I gave it a try. Note: This poem is full of cultural references that may confuse even native Spanish-speakers who aren't Salvadoran.]

Amor Salvadoreño – a poem

You want me to tell you how our love is?
I can tell you our love is
higher than the San Salvador volcano
deeper than the Lake of Ilopango
hotter than the days of May, and
longer than the Lempa River.

Our love is
more delicious than a pupusa
more refreshing than a Coca-cola in a bag
more beautiful than La Chulona, and
more comfortable than a hammock tied between two palm trees on the beach.

Our love is
more exciting than fireworks on Christmas Eve,
more intimate than the people pressed together on the last bus from San Salvador to Mejicanos
more fun than the rides during Fiestas Agostinas, and
more passionate than words exchanged between Areneros and FMLNistas

Our love is
more young at heart than a kid playing capirucho
more flirtatious than novios on a footbridge
richer than those that shop at La Gran Vía, and
happier than everybody when La Selecta scores a goal.

Our love is
more rhythmic than a cumbia
stronger than the winds of October
more interesting than the neighborhood gossip
more untamed than a street dog.

You want me to tell you how our love is?
I can tell you our love is
bigger than our beloved El Salvador.