This post originally published on a previously-owned blog and was imported here to simplify my life. Please excuse any confusion due to this merge. I hope you enjoy the content!
The other day I wrote about scenarios or situations I didn’t want to take for granted while living in the USA — big and little things that are part of everyday life here in South America.
Today I have the opposite to share with you! These are a list of more positive things that occur in South America that I will miss – and that I’m nervous about not having in the USA!
14 Things I’m Going to Miss About South America
1. Keeping Kids Quiet
My experience mostly has to do with church, but this can occur at any type of public gathering. Kids are noi-oi-sy. Most buildings are masonry here, so voices, chair scrapes, music and everything else are amplified and can even echo. You quickly build up an immunity to noise.
Combine that with a part of the culture I’m not even going to delve into this afternoon and that’s the looseness of parenting. Kids pretty much go where they want to when they want to. They wander all over the church, through the aisles, during the services. So, allow me to emphasize this – it’s LOUD!
But I like a big part of that. Sure, there are some people who are annoyed by it all (Latins are every bit different from each other than North Americans), but for the most part, people are cool with it all. What is great is that this allows my husband and I not to stress so much about our baby’s noise. If he starts wailing or being naughty, we’ll take him to the back, but he can make noises every once in a while and no one knows.
Whereas in the States…you know…if my toddler so much as makes a peep, all 400 heads in the church service would whip around and a small percentage would facially express their strong negative opinion of how-dare-you-disturb-me.
Listen, I’m not really that pessimistic — it’s just a very big difference. Church is quiet in the States. People feel entitled to their own special worship time. There are positives and negatives to that, for sure. Another post, another time… 🙂
I LOVE having my boy in church with us. And I’m concerned about the pressure of having to send him off to nursery or children’s church. It’s just something I’m a little nervous about, that’s all.
Times are changing in the bigger cities on this continent with increasingly more modern conveniences and practices. However, it is still MUCH more normal to breastfeed in public than in the States. Many don’t cover up at all. I do and probably always will, but I love that it’s so much less of a taboo here – nourishing your baby of all things!
In the States, I’m nervous about this because of how convenient it is here – I’ll have to find more private places so that other people aren’t uncomfortable. Sure, there’s a line there – a balance to find – and sometimes people just have to get over it because I’m not going to starve my babies. But it’s just a different situation, that’s all. Having nursed in both places, I’m speaking from experience.
I’ve said this to some friends already – I’m scared for winter! For the last few years we’ve lived right on the equator and we just don’t have seasons. I often will have to rack my brain to figure out if it’s November or April (and it ends up being July). And the weather is quite nice – upper 60s, lower 70s all year round. Sometimes it can get a bit chilly when we have more rain than normal, but seriously… I don’t know about living in the snowy places I used to be so accustomed to!
Not to mention the weather provides opportunity to see a lot of great places since it’s always nice. A couple weekends ago, we went one more time to my favorite scenic place in the whole country. There are lots of pretty places, but this volcanic crater happens to be my favorite.
4. The Respect of Women
That sounds so “feministic,” doesn’t it? But here’s what I mean: It’s almost like a love for women here. Particularly mothers. From the moment in my first pregnancy that my belly actually started to show, WOW. Let me say it again – WOW!! The special care I got from strangers, the different (quicker) lines I could use at the bank and other stores and the general just plain honor I was given made me feel so comforted, so dignified.
And then once I had a baby, the respect stayed. It may have even increased. It’s like I seemed helpless to others and if my husband wasn’t around, I wouldn’t have to lift a finger. I bet someone would have pushed my shopping cart for me!
This is another one of those deep sociological subjects I would be interested in studying more, like I mentioned the other day. The Latin culture is much more relational – I mean, what male O.B. (or female, for that matter) would greet you with a kiss and hug each time you saw him? That kind of stuff. It’s totally normal here and I know it’s a factor in the relational and cultural respect given to mamas.
Lots more I could muse over here…but on the other side (the USA-side), almost none of that exists. Is it selfishness? Is it our individualism? Is it scared of being sued? Why is it we don’t reach out to mothers, particularly those with young children? Why isn’t it just normal that there are several parking spots up front for pregnant ladies? So many questions…but I feel like I’m going to have to get stronger in a couple weeks just to survive without all the lovely help!
On a similar subject, there are generally more “helpers” everywhere. Oftentimes, this is their entire career – shopping cart pushers, car washers wherever you might park your car, parking lot attendants who help stop the flow and guide you out of your spot, etc. Sure, it’s their job and they’re doing it for income, but I very much appreciate the extra help you can always count on being nearby.
6. The Relaxed Life
In the USA, busy-ness is very close to unavoidable. It’s amazing and this is another thing my brain would like to dissect – why?? Why is life here in South America more relaxed, slower and not as constantly full?
We live so much more simply here, south of the equator. A part of it is because we don’t even have half the American stuff available to us, part of it is we don’t have television to flash things we “need” all the time, but part of it is something I can’t put my finger on.
My husband and I are concerned about the temptation of materialism in our home country. We know, from experience, that it can easily seep into our own lives and have had frequent conversations about how we’re going to combat it in our own home, with our kids and in other situations.
As we’ve sold tons of of household goods here to get ready to move, it’s been refreshing! All we have in the living room is a recliner and a rug and it hasn’t been that bad. Sure, we know we’re moving and that it’s temporary but the freedom from things is a refreshing feeling. And healthy.
8. The Colorful Life
Sights and sounds that are strange to the visitor have become very normal to us: Pigs hanging upside down on the side of the road, guinea pigs turning on a spit over a fire outside restaurant doors. Crumbling, un-matching houses – buildings built with their own style. People carrying around machetes. Street vendors that flood the lanes when the light turns red at most any intersection (speaking of, where are the cherries this year?? I only found them on the street last summer…). Men walking around with their shirts pulled up, exposing their big bellies because they’re too hot. Many bright colors that are just different than the “USA” style, no matter what part of the big Land of the Free we’re referring to.
These are not necessarily things I adore, but they have become comfort. It’s quite inexplicable, really. These weird things give me a strangely comforting sense that has made this foreign place “home.”
9. Things We Just Don’t Understand
This one encompasses “everything else,” just about. There are cultural traditions we’ll never understand, strange rituals we’ve observed but with confusion… Jumping over New Year’s fires for good luck, leaving plastic on their new car seats for as long as possible. Neighbors not seeming to mind their own roof dogs barking 22.5 hours a day, etc.
But it’s fun for us. We KNOW the American culture. It’s ours. We grew up with it. The “funny” things of foreign cultures keep us entertained, always learning and constantly a bit baffled.
I’m throwing this one in for my husband. Almost all restaurants (that aren’t brought in like TGI Friday’s, for example) have a daily “lunch.” They are usually very cheap and can come with three or four courses! If you just order the “almuerzo,” they don’t give you a menu, you act very normal to the culture, you risk not having exactly what you’d like to eat that day but you save money. My husband loves it and typically eats that kind of meal at various places near his office.
11. The Greetings
This used to drain on me, but in retrospect I can see it was drawn out culture shock that I finally worked through. When one enters a room, that person literally greets every single person individually – with a kiss or handshake or a hug. When he or she leaves, same thing. Goodbye kisses to all.
It’s unusual for a shy, introverted person who’s kinda bad at hugging to like that sort of thing. 🙂 But I do. It’s warm. It’s refreshing. And it’s something I will miss.
Obviously this one is a little odd in the list, but I can’t describe the connection you make with other expatriates who are in town for any sort of reason. I made good mommy friends, we’ve had great evenings with other families and have made some solid friendships.
You can only attempt to describe certain situations to your friends back in the States. No matter how close you are to them, if they’ve not had this experience themselves, there is a gaping canyon there. No one understands specific little things like other co-workers, fellow missionaries in similar cultures and nearby expats. It’s a fact that is in no way the fault of those back in the States. It’s just a fact.
13. People Dying Over Our Baby
This is a bit of a silly one, but I seriously love how people go “gah gah” over our son. I’d say 99% of women, 80% of men and even a good percentage of teenagers and other kids do it! We’ve had many people ask to take pictures with him, chase us down at the zoo for even a second picture, drag their friends from the other grocery aisle to see him and more. They can’t get enough of his “doll-like” face and big blue eyes.
We walk by anyone and usually hear “hermoso,” “guapo,” “lindo” “muñeco,” or “precioso” between them and it makes me grin. I love how appreciated he is. He won’t get that in the States which is actually probably good for his ego in the long run, ha!
It really is genuine. These people, these strangers – they love and appreciate him and his sweetness. This is a blanket generalization and super not true all the time, but we are so superficially nice in the States. Complimenting someone is often forced, like we must find something to say something nice about. Do you know what I mean? People aren’t obligated here to run down a hill in high heels to take another picture with the blond baby boy. 🙂
14. Medical Care
I saved this one for last. It’s probably the thing I’ve been most nervous about as we look toward living in the USA. Initial disclaimer, though: we don’t use the public hospitals. We are fortunate to be able to use private hospitals where the care quality is the same as the States, the technology seems to be equal and the doctors are often educated in Europe or the USA at good schools.
I can call one of our doctor’s cell phones here and almost always get him. Sure, you might have to wait for him to answer a call during your scheduled appointment, but it’s worth it! I have their direct email addresses and get quick replies to those, too! They spend abundant amounts of time – as much as you need – at each appointment with you. (My husband said “sometimes more” to that last part.) 🙂 You don’t have to fill out insurance paperwork before being seen (it’s done after or you have to pay before you’re allowed to leave).
Speaking of costs, they are much less here. Yet, everything else seems equal…
For some reason, in the States, I always feel like I’m inconveniencing the doctor – that they are always rushed and I’m getting in the way of more important things. Oh, how opposite it is here! The relational aspect of the culture that I’ve already mentioned is still in play at medical visits.
Basically, it’s like going to your dad who’s a doctor that got educated at Stanford.
Please remember these are just our own experiences. All people with all types of reasons for living on this continent have their own unique adventures, relationships and shocks of culture.
The extensive range of emotions that are fluttering around my heart and my mind as we prepare for this change in our lives can be heavy. But my heart is also full! God is clearly directing our family to make this move. He has noticeably been alongside us during our years here, helping and guiding us through every step. And He has such great plans for us that we don’t even know!
There are legions of you out there who live abroad or have moved back from overseas. What are your thoughts? Surely there are different items you could add for different parts of the world, too. What say you?