Friday, March 19, 2010

orientation: day 2

Culture shock, day 1!

We spent a lot of time on the complexities of the beso ("kiss"), the mutual kiss on the right cheek. After some questioning, this turns out to be almost entirely gendered, and something that is largely women's problem to deal with. Essentially you're obligated to beso anyone you've ever met, male or female, as well as to beso everyone at a reasonably-sized party, both when you arrive (though you can include it as part of making the rounds) and when you leave, and it's extremely rude to leave anyone out.

Money quote: "It's much better to over-beso than under-beso."

Men beso only people they're extremely close to; otherwise it's a handshake and a hug with the three pats on the back that in America we associate with jocks, and joke about as meaning "I'm. Not. Gay."

You can find this narrative on the web pretty easily, but there are roughly four stages:

  1. Initial Euphoria - This is all very new and interesting, and lots of stuff here is just like home!
  2. Irritation & Hostility - The Angry Period of focusing on and critiquing differences. This country is insane, how can anyone live like this? Sense of humor disappears and small things trigger lots of irrational rage.
  3. Gradual Adjustment - Start accepting how things are, start laughing again.
  4. Adaption & Bi-Culturalism - Fluid acceptance and integration into the host culture and community.

Of course, acculturating sets you up for the same experience in reverse when you return to your home culture. I'm really intrigued to see what happens when I get home for a few weeks and then head off to Tassajara, which is at once both a new culture of its own (an intensive practice period in winter in the middle of nowhere), but also something I'm familiar with and really enjoy (a Zen monastery).

We watched Machuca, an outstanding film about two boys (one rich, one poor) during the Pinochet coup in 1973. It's relevant to our teaching because (a) the severe class divisions have persisted, and we're getting the poor kids, not the rich kids, and (b) the educational culture does not encourage lots of critical thinking and independent contradictory thought, because not that long ago, that was really dangerous.

I got to wear my shiny new khakis and my nicest shirt and shoes today, because after the movie we went (extremely late) to the U.S. Embassy, to see it and meet the nice people and get some basic briefings from them about the U.S.-Chile relationship and what the Embassy does and can do for us if needed. I had a moment of internal snark when one officer talked about wanting us to help convince Chileans that intellectual property is really important and good for the economy and the culture.

Yeah. Not joining that effort, sorry.

My first time inside an embassy! Nice folks doing good work, beautiful landscaping, extremely friendly security people.

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