Sunday, December 20, 2009

Hugs and Kisses

Last month my son started school here in Granollers. He is learning Catalan. However, the language is only half of the journey into understanding another culture.

We are both struggling with verbs, pronunciation and  trying to remember the masculine or feminine of your nouns. We say ‘the’ and you say ‘la’, ‘el’, l’, ‘les’, ‘els’. That’s the easy part.

The difficult part is getting used to the high emotional tone of some of the people here. Casual conversation sounds like an argument. ‘What are those people arguing about?’ I ask. ‘Oh, nothing. They are discussing the weather.’ Oh.

People here generally greet each other with two kisses. If I offer my hand for a handshake, some people are offended and force me into a hug and pressing of cheeks and kisses that sound in the air and is felt sometimes upon my cheek.

Affectionate displays are not so common in Australia. Men do not usually kiss each other. The closest Australian men get to close physical contact is a hard slap on the shoulder and a manly ‘G’day mate.’
I remember watching the soccer/football in Australia and being surprised by the hugging and close physical contact of the players.

My son is also experiencing difficulties in accepting the physical approach of other students at his school.  He asks why the other students keep hugging him, patting him and generally touching him. I try to explain that it’s a different culture, that people are very physical here and demonstrative.

In actually fact, I think it’s a healthy change in our lives. I think something that was missing from my childhood, was the comfort and caring of friendly physical touch. I was very happy to see the other children coming and embracing my son at school. He shrunk into his body, but I think with some practice he will improve. He’ll get used to hugs and touch and be able to receive the kindness for what its intended. As a sign of affection and comfort.

In the spirit of positive cross cultural exchanges – un abracada!

 Originally posted in the Revista del Valles 

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