Friday, February 5, 2010

Fare Thee Well, my Latin Muchacos

I have officially spent 2 weeks babysitting middle aged men from all over South America (and some Indians, to boot). I have sat in over-cooled or over-heated conference rooms, diligently insuring that none of them are sneaking away into the night with the pricing secrets of their competitors. I have had my name or some version of it- Alise Moore, Mauri Els, Mor Lise- paged over the intercom dozens of times and I have dutifully gone to fetch them from reception. When they at last do conquer my name, with the help of the extensive use of a white board and careful pronounciations, they roll the vowels so excitingly: Maorah (think the Maori tribe in New Zealand). Actually, the Spanish speakers on my team have started calling me Maurita, which means "little Maura." I gather it's like calling a John "Johnny" when he's young.
I've lined them up single-file and taken them to art class (or lunch, whatever). I've suppressed giggles at their misuse of English or at their well meant attempts to immulate American culture- my favorite moment was the Michael Bolton-esque ringtone that began with the immortal lines, "Catch a Tiger, Catch a Dream." I've patiently followed a winding path of explanation to arrive at mutual understanding. I've provided such golden English vocabulary nuggets as the difference between "power strip" and "power of attorney." And I've relished that time old south of the border tradition: long lunch.
All of this is to say, I have been immersed in Spanish and the Latin culture for the last couple of weeks. I've generally been exposed to it quite a bit in the last months, because the client I'm working for has it's operations all over South America, but I've heard more Spanish than English for days now. My comprehension has really improved and I now find myself responding to requests with "Perfecto" or "Claro" or "Porque?" I've loved bonding with the lone business women who have such chutzpah and have given me so much perspective on how well I'm treated and respected here as an equal, even on a bad day. But more than that, there is inherent value in experiencing the world from someone else's point of view. I'm no stranger to this phenomenon- for an ugly American, I think that I'm well educated about other cultures and I seek out opportunities to experience them. I've studied and traveled abroad extensively, I've worked a lot with international students, I minored in a foreign language and international business. Yet everytime I'm permitted to get a peak into another way of life, I'm always rewarded with fresh insight, renewed self-awareness, and a greater appreciation for the diversity of humanity that God has created. It's truly a beautiful thing.
So when my South American chicos loaded up to leave a few minutes ago, bundled up to their eyes and marveling at the snow, I was sad to see them go. They gave me a couple of Yankee Candle products (who knew they made hand sanitizer?) and, inexplicably, a Butterfinger, as a goodbye present and my heart melted with how sweet they were. They kept thanking me for being so kind and their angel. That shows the universality of good manners, for one thing, but it also shows that when you take the time to try to understand other people, they appreciate it.
Anyways, it's been a fun change of pace for the last few weeks, muchacos, and I hope you enjoy your long trips back to Sao Paulo, Mexico City, Lima, etc. etc. I salute you- and judging from your passionate love of details and $500 line items, I bet that I will be seeing you soon.

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