Balanced Melting Pot

Archive for April, 2009|Monthly archive page

Not bad – for an American.

In Cultural Expectations, Culture, Questions, Traditions on April 27, 2009 at 1:50 pm

My husband, a first generation immigrant, and I were talking about a mutual friend the other day and he made the statement, “For a person who was raised in the US, she’s very polite.” I asked him what he meant and when he didn’t elaborate, I assumed he has the feeling that Haitian children who are raised here have a tendency to only follow American norms – which can be misconstrued as rude.

Right off the heels of last week’s post about greetings, I thought how this was all based on his experiences where a 2nd generation Haitian has not greeted him properly or made him feel unwelcomed in his/her presence.

I am fortunate to have had enough experiences with Americans to know that expectations/manners vary and some are what he would consider very well-mannered (as with any culture). But, I’m sure his point of reference would always be  the Haitian culture and his observations would be “So-and-so is really nice – for an American.”

This stereotype is common amongst immigrant cultures and I think children raised here can come across as indifferent or aloof in adopting American mannerisms. I think this happens because the majority of the social settings they are in do not expect you to embrace everyone when you walk into a room, refer to all older people as “aunt” or “uncle” or to show subservience when hosting friends.

What are some of the misunderstandings/criticisms of American etiquette that your culture possesses?

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Expressions of good will

In Cultural Expectations, Culture, Parenting, Questions, Social Norms, Thoughts, Traditions on April 20, 2009 at 1:35 pm

Last week, I greeted someone who I’ve been working with professionally for about year with a kiss on the cheek.  Another colleague came up to us immediately following that and did the same. Even though the other colleague and I usually don’t greet each other that way, she didn’t want me to feel left out.

The three of us then started talking about cultural differences around greetings and personal space. The first colleague, who is originally from Jamaica, said that she had a hard time adjusting to this custom when she first moved to South Florida. Apparently in Jamaica, you only shake hands in professional settings – anything else is considered an invasion of personal space. The other colleague, who is American, I have decided is an anomaly because her sense of personal space is almost non-existent.

This conversation made me realize two things. One – I am wrong to assume that all Caribbean immigrants have similar customs. Two – even though I am quite comfortable greeting fellow Haitians with a kiss, for some reason it seems strange to do with members of any other culture.

I realized a while ago that my daughter hasn’t figured out when to differentiate, so she when the situation presents itself, she kindly waits for her father or me to give her the signal as to which greeting is appropriate. I know that in the Haitian culture, if done improperly (i.e. just saying “hi”), it is considered very disrespectful.

Does your culture of origin require greetings different than that of Americans? If so, how do you teach your children to differentiate? Or, if not (or are American), do you mind adapting to what is appropriate for other cultures?

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Rites of Passage – Part Two

In Cultural Expectations, Parenting, Questions, Religion, Social Norms, Thoughts on April 14, 2009 at 10:42 am

My daughter is just about to complete her first year of Confraternity of Christian Doctrine (CCD). For you non-Catholics, it’s basically religious education classes that prepare children for their First Holy Communion and Confirmation. Even though we are not devout Catholics, culturally this is a very important milestone for her, as well as the family.

To commemorate this occasions, many Haitians throw lavish parties where family and friends all participate in the celebration. In the past, I have always considered these parties to be over the top and the true meaning of the occasion is often lost. I envisioned the celebration for our children to be intimate gatherings where close family and friends would be present, as they would for many other momentous occasions.

Well, this sounds good – in theory. My husband and I are now beginning to develop our invitee list and somehow it just keeps growing. We will think of one person and realize by inviting him/her, you automatically need to invite another 4 people who are associated and/or family (this has to be another cultural phenomenon).

I think what I will eventually have to come to terms with is that this is going to be big party, whether I want it or not. I am going to choose to look at the positive side and accept that there many people who wish to celebrate this milestone with our family :-?.

Do you have a similar tradition in your culture that you continue to observe? Also, do you have any suggestions on how to keep this party manageable without offending anyone :-)?

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