“Adapting” is an ongoing topic in my life, and I’m guessing, an ongoing topic amongst immigrants anywhere. I’ve met people who have stubbornly declared they will never adapt to Finland, but for most of us less extreme people, adapting can be a very enriching and positive thing. It’s a matter of negotiation, of trying to hold on to the things we like best about the place we came from while being open to some of the awesome things a new place has to offer. A couple of simple and uncontroversial examples: I gave up on the Mexican tradition of greeting friends and strangers by kissing the air next to their cheeks- I hated having to do that and I don’t miss it at all. On the other hand, I terribly miss the way people in Mexico, both friends and strangers, say “bless you” if you sneeze. I’m homesick for that custom, which is maybe why “salud” is one of the first words T. learned in Spanish (though it could just be because “salud” also means “cheers”). In any case, nowhere is the process of negotiation as fierce and passionate as for people dating someone from a different culture (and I’ve heard that things get even more heated up when raising a child is involved).
I think I’m pretty good at adapting. Some days I fear maybe I’m too good. However. There are some Mexican beliefs that I don’t want to let go off. I’m not going to say any names, but you’d imagine that a person who loves me would be respectful and supportive those very few times that I cling on to my culture of origin, right? Well, you’d be wrong. Some people can be very disrespectful towards my Mexican beliefs. When some people laugh at some of the things I say, I feel very sad inside. I feel as if some people were laughing at my mother, and my grandmother, and my great-grandmother, and at the knowledge accumulated painstakingly generation after generation. It is about time the world knew about this scorn and disbelief and cultural insensitivity. What follows is a list of those Mexican beliefs which have been mocked.
When you burn yourself, put mustard on it. Man, everybody knows this. And it works! It totally does. The downside is your arm smells like a hotdog, but… is that really a downside? Some people, on the other hand, say you should just put water on it and stop being such a baby. Pffft.
You shouldn’t eat pork at night before going to sleep, or you’ll have nightmares. This is a fact! Pork is heavy. It takes time to digest. If your stomach is busy digesting food, you won’t have a restful sleep. Pork at night is a no-no. But some people don’t care, and they eat ridiculous amounts of bacon without regard to their health.
You should wait until leftover food cools down before storing it in the fridge. Ok, ok, to be fair, after years arguing with some people about this, I had to concede defeat. My mom recently discovered that the reason we’ve always been waiting for things to cool down is that in the old times, refrigerators were ice boxes: a box with a huge block of ice, and if you put warm things in, the ice would melt more quickly. So ok, some people are sometimes right, but that’s no excuse.
Cans go in the pantry, NOT in the fridge! (except beverages like coke, I mean canned foods) It’s common sense! If the cans were not refrigerated in the supermarket, why would you need to refrigerate them at home? It seems some people have never watched post-apocalyptic movies, where people are stuck in their bomb shelters with tons of unrefrigerated cans.
Beer can go bad. That’s right. If the beer was cold, and then you take it out of the fridge, then you need to drink it soon afterwards. Under no circumstance should you put the beer back in the fridge, to cool again! Its taste is forever ruined. It’s probably even poisonous. It’s likely that some people have never noticed this unfortunate reality, because they’ve never lived in a desert in which the effects of drastic changes of temperature are a very obvious matter.
You shouldn’t go swimming straight after eating. Some people- two, in fact- have laughed at me and my “old wives tales”. This is a fact. A scientific fact, surely! If you’ve just eaten, your body is concentrating on digesting the food. So you can get cramps, which can be very dangerous or at least unpleasant. I once disobeyed my mom’s orders that I wait some time before swimming, and I got awful cramps which were incredibly terrifying. I thought I was going to die.
You should rinse berries before you eat them. Some people look at me like I’m crazy when I rinse freshly-picked berries before eating them. It’s apparently deeply insulting, like I’m impugning the honor of the great beautiful outdoors, like there’s nothing as rude and offensive as refusing to eat some muddy thing a squirrel could’ve peed on straight from the ground. I don’t bring up squirrel pee or the fact that we live in a world with acid rain and all sorts of weird pollutants when I’m offered berries, nor do I insist everyone rinse their berries. I just want to very quickly- it seriously takes no more than a minute- run them through some tap water, but some people take this very personally and I don’t see what the big deal is. My greatgrandmother lost a child because of this. Cause of death? Unwashed lettuce.
The usage of “this”. Today is a Friday. I’m talking with some people about X event we are invited to. X event will happen in four days (1. Saturday, 2. Sunday, 3. Monday, 4.Tuesday) from now, so I would say, “We have X event this Tuesday.” “This” is the most dangerous and taboo word in a household I share with some people. Apparently, it is confusing to say “this Tuesday”, because then I’d be referring to the Tuesday which happened 3 days ago, and not to the one that’s happening in 4 days. To me, it’s obvious that I’m not suggesting we take a time-travel machine to attend X event in the past. The very verb conjugation indicates the event is in the future, so by “this”, I’m referring to the first incidence of a Tuesday after I pronounce the statement. Some people completely understand what I mean by “this” but they fight to the death what they deem to be an incorrect usage. Worse, this happens in any language I try to communicate with, and yet the problem remains with “este martes” and “tänä tiistaina”.
Nevertheless, despite all this, I still love some people. And they are quite minor things, really. Very very small things. We agree on most of the big things. But still- cultural adaptation is an intricate and deeply personal matter, and there’s no easy way to go about it. Best of luck to all of us out there who are negotiating meanings and frameworks upon which to operate in.