I was looking at a friend’s photos on Facebook the other day and admiring her bookshelves and it occurred to me that this is one of the things I’m now used to. It’s weird to see overstuffed bookcases around here (though I have a few myself, of course). Other things that you get used to as an expat around here:
Image via xoque - Flickr CC
Guards with guns. The first time I rounded a corner in Antigua and ran into a guard carrying a shotgun, it scared me almost to death. Now? I don’t even notice them for the most part.
Eating with tortillas. I’ll be honest, when I first arrived in this country, I really didn’t like tortillas. Eventually, I got used to them. The funniest thing though, is learning to eat with a tortilla in place of utensils. One year, my sister came to visit and we ate with the in-laws.
“Everyone eats with their hands . . . I’m the only one using a fork!” Yup, welcome to Guatemala. Who needs to dirty forks and spoons when you can just scoop up your beans with a tortilla?
Bombas. Firecrackers are set off nearly every day here, particularly around holidays and birthdays. For some bizarre reason, birthday bombas are set off very early in the morning, like four am sometimes! Early on, these always woke me, but now I can sleep right through them.
Constant shake-ups. Earthquakes happen a lot around here, which is apparently a good thing, since it means the pressure is relieved. Amazingly, it’s possible to get used to the windows rattling and the floor undulating beneath your feet!
Image via Kate and Alonso - Flickr CC
Shopping over the counter. While there are some shops that have shelves where you can go and pick things off the shelf, the vast majority of stationary stores, convenience stores, etc. keep everything behind the counter, often with metal bars for security separating you from the clerk.
This presents a problem for the non-Spanish speaking tourists. You not only have to know which store to go to in order to find what you need, you also have to know what it’s called in Spanish! Depending on the clerk, they may or may not be tolerant of your muddled vocabulary and hand gestures trying to describe what you need.
After all these years, I’m now accustomed to ordering what I need, but I do still miss the ability to scan the shelves of a craft shop and drool over products.
Kissing cheeks. I’m a bit of an introvert, so hugs and kisses don’t come naturally to me, but here, cheek kissing is a very common greeting and farewell. I can’t say I’m 100% on it all the time, sometimes I’m not sure if I should kiss or shake hands, but it doesn’t really phase me anymore when someone leans in.
Lack of personal space. North Americans value their personal bubble and we tend to have respect for each other’s personal space. Latinos . . . don’t seem to have the same sense of space. In the first few years, I found it alarming to have people stand so close to me, or sit right next to me on a bench. I wondered what they wanted or if something was wrong. Now? While I still like my personal bubble, it’s not a big deal when someone moves into it . . . or several someones.
These are just a few of the things that I once found awkward or uncomfortable but now treat as normal. What have you gotten used to as an expat?