Thursday, November 27, 2008

Postcards from the edge

I wrote a postcard to myself while on vacation in San Francisco. It just arrived:

"I miss the land of open vowel sounds and rolled R's. The words here in SF are truncated. The sign says, 'shark,' but people here say, 'TIH-burr-unh.' It gets caught in my mouth; it's so strange here."

Also, this is my new boyfriend. I met him at Bishop's Pumpkin Farm.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

What if...

What if gestures and general facial expressions weren't universal? They aren't entirely, I know. Sure, sure, lifting a backwards peace symbol with your hand will illicit no kind of reaction in the States, but when you arrive in the UK, will be greeted with a black eye.

Certainly those little cultural differences exist here in México. Luckily, the kind people at the Fulbright Commission actually demonstrated some of them at our orientation. Like how one can answer "Yes" even if one's mouth is full, because it only involves your index finger:

Or how men generally greet one another by shaking right hands, moving right to embrace with two pats on the back, and then returning to shaking right hands.

Or the one that continually causes me trouble, is "thank you." Think of Vito Corleone raising a hand of thanks to one his Italian brethren, and you're close. In thanks, you raise your hand to eye level, palm facing inward. To me, this always looks like I am swearing at someone. So even though intellectually I know this, raising the back of my hand to a car that has kindly just let me cross the street, I cringe a bit, waiting for them to floor it and trample me.

Oh, then there is what I always thought was the universal symbol for balls. But here, means "lazy." Though, Kelsey Mulyk helped explain why: "The gesture for lazy is a cupped palm facing upwards, like you are holding something heavy. One or both hands can be used in this gesture. This is highly inappropriate because it refers to lifting "huevos" (which is Mexican slang for testicles). Basically the meaning behind this gesture is that the owner's "balls" are so big and heavy that he can't get up!" Ah, I see. So I'm not totally off.

The Fulbright Commission and I must not be the only ones interested in these gesticular dissimilarities--because there are a sizable collection of explanatory YouTube videos and websites; this being my favorite.

But I started thinking, these cultural differences aside, what if facial expressions were not shared in any way? How would you learn another language? How often I find myself using facial expressions and context to glean the meaning of unfamiliar words. What would I do if a confused face in Mexico, actually meant felicity here? Or if an angry face denoted hunger?