Thursday, September 23, 2010

Saludos con un Beso

Hola from Miami, my new casa these days. I know the last I left off I was in Boston or New York depending on your day of the week. But now my new casa es en Miami...I think that's how you say it in Spanish.

Being a new Miami resident, I am learning that spanish as a second language is an incorrect statement. English as a second language would be more like it. One of the most noticeable things I've seen or should I say heard since I moved to this richly Hispanic/Cubano town, is I am definitely minority. (Well, aside from the annual homage in March where all the sororities, fraternities and other alcoholic and sex adventurers take time out from their studies to descend on South Beach; then and only then would I say I am closer to the majority.) But even then yo soy uno de los pocos residentes que no hablan espaƱol. And yes I am using Google Translator for my few attempts at speaking "spanglish".

During the past 8 months, I have come to accept my choppy to almost no Spanish abilities, my inability to acclimate to the insanely hot summer months, and the choice I have made to stay inside more often than not to avoid the tan leathery lizard skin that appears to have crawled over all the women of Southern Florida, however I still can't seem to conquer the simple greeting of friends, co-workers and strangers.
This seems like no problema you would think, but then you would be WRONG. Down here in South Florida or might I say USA's little Havana, you greet with a kiss or saludos con un beso.

Now the first time I ran into this problem, or should I say ran into my fellow Miamian, I was greeted with an awkward: holding of the shoulders, leaning in for a headbut, touching of the oiling face, handshaking/hugging kiss. As much as I try, I can't seem to accomplish this mundane but yet meaningful task. I am sure my fellow Miamians must feel my hesitation or tense back muscles. 'This can't be a kind greeting' they must be thinking. I just can't get it. I am like a gangly rag doll  with a cemented neck.

My problem now, after a couple of months of getting somewhat used to this greeting, is now I struggle with the: is this a handshake kiss, or a hug kiss, or a double kiss, or just a slight one sided squeeze kiss? Why does such a simple act cause such an influx of anxiety in me? Can't we just say, "HI?" I will even say it in Spanish if you prefer, "Hola". But why must I continue past the verbal acknowledgment that we are greeting each other for the first time in the day, week, or even ever?

Aside, from the cultural reasons for the kiss, whether you are from Mexico, Cuba, South America or even Spain, I decided to look further into this new version or what I have come to find out as an older version of the hand shake. In 1 Peter 5:14, Peter states "Greet one another with a kiss of love" and in Romans 16:16 it also states "Salute one another with a holy kiss." It is such a personal greeting that is intimate, not in a what is this stranger trying to make out with me way, but in a we are more than strangers on a sidewalk standing at a bus stop kind of greeting.

I learned real quick at my current job that the "how are you doing?" simple but uninterested greeting was not going to fly. I actually thought I was being clever by speaking spanish and saying, "Hola, comas esta" while I continued walking past a co-worker. But that was no way. When I came back I got reprimanded for my indifferent greeting AND it was in spanish. So not only did I feel like an idiot because my new co-worker who I had only met two days ago was yelling at me in a language I didn't understand, but I could've sworn I had simply said "Hello, how are you?" How could I have messed that up? What did I call him? What did he think I said to him? What rude insult did I throw at my new co-worker?

I had done neither and he wasn't actually yelling at me. What I miss took as a very angry rant, was merely a correction. "No simplemente decir hola, nos saludamos con un beso." Translation: "We don't simply say hello, we greet with a kiss." (If that is incorrect spanish, please blame it on Google translate.)

So now, only 3 days on the job I am making out with all of my co-workers, well not really. but my lips are definitely getting some much needed cheek-on-cheek action. Don't get me wrong, I love this cultural greeting that I have found myself amongst, but please don't take personally any awkward kissing as the definition of my feelings towards you. It just simply means I still have long to go in mastering saludarles a ustedes con un beso.