Tuesday, January 25, 2011

The Mexican Greeting

To hug, to shake hands, to kiss on the cheek.... As you may remember from a previous post, I'm not an overly affectionate person and I've never been very good at any of these. When it comes to hugging, I never know to whom to do it, when to do it, or for how long. One vibrant young man once said in a talk at church that you should make it a point to be the last to let go in a hug, but if everyone adopted that practice, there would be a lot of long, potentially awkward encounters.

Shaking hands is something that is easier to manage, although I never know whether the person I'm greeting would like to hug or shake hands. If you go to shake hands, but they would like to hug, again, you end up with an awkward moment where your hand is reaching toward their abdomen area and they are coming toward you with outstretched arms, perhaps already offended that you would chose to give them a mere handshake.

Now we come to the Mexican greeting. It's called a "saludo" and it is done by each party touching right cheeks and making a kissing sound in the air. To repeat, you don't actually kiss the person, you just touch cheeks, pucker, and kiss the air beside them.

As if hugging and hand-shaking weren't confusing enough to me, I've now chosen to live among a people who greet each other in this new (to me) and somewhat personal way.

So here are some of the problems I've had with this. First of all, since our community is made up of both Mexican and American people, I never know if they are going to do the Mexican saludo or the American hug or handshake. I find that I can't give a hug my all if I am wondering if I should be touching cheeks instead. I still remember the first time I was greeted in the Mexican way. I was chosen as one of the moms to serve lunch to the football players the day before game day. The boys were each dressed in white shirts and ties, as they always were on this occasion, and as I was preparing a tray of brownies, one very popular and attractive boy smiled at me, approached me, leaned over me, then pressed his cheek against mine, kissing the air beside my ear. I was stunned and, honestly, a little teensy weensy bit flattered. Later that afternoon, I said to the 15-year-old girl, "Hey 15-year-old girl, you know that really cute popular guy on the football team, the tall one with the curly hair?"

"Yeah," she responded, bored by the conversation already.

"Well, he kissed me today. What do you think that means?"

"It doesn't mean anything, Mom," she answered in her best annoyed inflection. "He just saludared you. Everybody does that. I'm sure he did it to all the other moms, too."

"Oh. Okay."

My mind was reeling with this new revelation. So was I expected to do this to all of the teenage boys who come over to the house with my sons? What about when I see them at church? What about their fathers?

Since then I've learned, more or less, with whom I should share this greeting and with whom I should not. It's too complicated to write about here, so I'll just leave it at that. Except to say that I don't have trouble at all when it comes to teenage girls and women. I feel comfortable hugging, shaking hands or greeting them Mexican-style. The troubles seem to start when teenage boys come into the picture. They're just so awkward and I wouldn't ever want to do anything to make any of them uncomfortable.

If I've known a person for some time, I can learn his greeting technique, which makes things a little easier. For instance, one young man who is often seen in my kitchen enthusiastically gives me the traditional Mexican greeting, then afterwords embraces me American-style, firmly, for an extended period. Fortunately I've grown accustomed to this and can now confidently "saludar" him, then lean back in for the hug.

While at the rodeo this past weekend, I didn't have too much trouble determining whom to greet Mexican-style and whom to greet American-style, but sometimes people just want to shake hands. So I shake their hands, but then wonder if I need to go in for the cheek-touching afterwords or just leave it at the hand shake. It's never as simple as I would hope. As I was leaving the rodeo, I ran into one of the 18-year-old boy's friends, a young man with whom I had had a friendly encounter across the aisles at Walmart a week previously, which meant we were now on friendly terms. I was holding Baby Hippo in my left arm, and in my right hand, a Ziploc bag half-filled with smashed chocolate chip cookie crumbs I had been feeding Baby Hippo. Thus, my hand occupied with the Ziploc bag was also covered in crumbs and chocolate. As the boy approached me, I began to become nervous, wondering if he was going to "saludar" me and if so, what should I do with my hands? As he got closer, he began to extend his hand, and I realized that the greeting would be a simple handshake. I quickly switched the Ziploc bag to my left hand in preparation for the shake, but then remembered that my right hand was covered in cookie. Not knowing what else to do, I tentatively held it out and quickly and apologetically explained that my hand had cookies all over it, so I couldn't shake his. His solution was to smile, then simply grab my wrist where it was cleaner and shake that. I guess I've been in more awkward situations, so I can't complain.

And with that, I shall bid thee "Adios"!


(That's John, and I'm always comfortable giving him any kind of greeting.)

P.S. My sister and I are finally getting skinnier!
See how we're doing it HERE! :)


The Farmer's Wife said...

Fun post Jen! Very well explained...and understood well by one who has had the same questions of how and when....but...I have settled in now and I just hug and kiss everyone! That will solve the delima for you! Un abrazo and besito, Jen!!

Unknown said...

I would definitely be confused. I always have issues with whether or not to handshake or hug...so throw the kiss thing in too and I'd be a mess.

Kelli said...

I'm going to squeeze you next time we meet! GET READY!!!!

Luvmy9 said...

You're hilarious. I love your post! I always do the saludo thing and sometimes I surprise the Mexican people by doing so, but they always seem pleased. To me it's perfect-the hugging thing is a little too personal sometimes and the handshake too cold. El saludar de beso es perfecto! Love you!

Luvmy9 said...

You're hilarious. I love your post! I always do the saludo thing and sometimes I surprise the Mexican people by doing so, but they always seem pleased. To me it's perfect-the hugging thing is a little too personal sometimes and the handshake too cold. El saludar de beso es perfecto! Love you!

alessandra said...

In Italy we usually shake hands, but greet like Mexicans only with family and close friends.
I understand your embarrassment though.
You could do what you feel, and do it your way ;)

alessandra said...

Oh, and be sure that if one day we'll meet I'll give you many hugs and kisses on the cheeks :D

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