Monday, February 15, 2010

Guanajuato, Mexico -- Working The Culture #4

Just a casual reading of this blog's past entries, will reveal that I place a huge emphasis on learning Spanish if you are planning to move here. I do not speak just for the city and state of Guanajuato, although it is vital here, but for all of Mexico. It wouldn't kill you to learn Spanish as a tourist either.

Why do I write obsessively about learning Spanish? I do for several reasons. A major reason is the aspect of respect.

I once did a survey of Mexicans in the city of Guanajuato in which I asked one simple question:

"Do you feel gringos are disrespecting you and your culture if they do not learn Spanish?"

All but one of those surveyed answer they felt disrespected when gringos do not learn Spanish and come to Mexico expecting Mexicans to speak English.

A second reason, indeed a major reason if not the most important one, is that if the gringo, especially the American gringo, is going to move to Mexico and live here for any length of time, he or she will be confronted with just how "Language is the primary mechanism by which people interpret, transmit, and shape their culture."

I have contended, and still do, that you will never have a chance to understand and function well within Mexico's culture if you cannot handle the language.

Language is cemented in culture and culture in language. The sooner you understand that and set about learning Spanish the better.

Americans tend to regard elegant speech as pretentious. In America we tend to avoid the ten-dollar words. We shoot for simplicity. In Mexico, especially in formal situations, Mexicans will use vocabulary that is elegant and elevated. Americans in their English go for pragmatic speech whereas the Mexican goes for the romanticism in Spanish when in formal situations.

A Mexican will judge you by how you speak to them in formal situations.

When introduced to someone you've never met or who is older than you or of a different social class, and you use their first name right off the bat, you will be judged as rude. Americans do this routinely, I have noticed. They listen to the entire name when introduced and will assume a level of familiarity that is improper and rude by using the first name.

You the gringo learn this through language. The language has formal and informal address. If you do not know the difference in the language between the Usted and the Tu form, you are already starting out on the wrong foot.

There is a course in Spanish I would like to introduce. It is one of the best in terms of arriving in Mexico already well on your way to language proficiency.

Proficiency or fluency is a process that takes time. But, why not start long before you take the retirement plunge in moving to Mexico? The sooner you begin the better. It's a matter of culture, a matter of respect, a matter of expat survival!



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